After winning three back-to-back away series, India has shown that they are on the right track for the 2015 World Cup. First India won the last edition of Champions Trophy in England and then a tri-series in West Indies to justify their top billing in the ODI rankings. In Zimbabwe, where the Indian cricket board tested its bench strength and the potential of Virat Kohli as a future captain, India won 5-0 making it clearly visible that India has solid bench strength and their preparations to retain their ODI World Cup are on track.
Apart from Cheteshwar Pujara, arguably the most technically sound batsman in the Indian team, every single player who got the chance to prove his mettle against the minnows Zimbabwe made it count. Amit Mishra, who was warming the benches in the last two series, silenced the critics by becoming the first bowler to equal the world record of Javagal Srinath by scalping 18 wickets in a bilateral series. Apart from Mishra, Ambati Rayudu, Jaydev Unadkat and Mohit Sharma, who made their ODI debut in the series also made their presence felt. As far as Pujara is concerned, who also made his ODI debut in the recently concluded bilateral series, all those who have been watching cricket from close quarters know very well that it’s just a matter of time for this highly talented lad to show his batting prowess in the limited over format. In fact, Ajinkya Rahane, who only managed to a get a chance in the last match of the five-match series, scored a fifty.
A couple of years back, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhjan Singh, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh were considered the back-bone of the Indian team. Surprisingly, if we see the present team, which has won three tournaments on the trot and that too out of the sub-continent, it doesn’t have all these big names. Now the senior members in the team are players like Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli and the captain himself - MSD.
In the recent times, the players who have not only shown potential but also excelled enough to cement their places in the limited over formats are – Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Dinesh Karthik, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shikhar Dhawan. If one moustache holder has been winning the hearts and matches with his all-round skills, then the other one is establishing himself as an opener and making the comeback for two out-of-form openers – Sehwag and Gambhir– even more difficult.
Against all odds, Dinesh Karthik is establishing himself as batsman who can bat at any position. Karthik has transformed himself immensely in the past. On the other hand, Rohit Sharma is undoubtedly a gifted player; nevertheless he has to work on his consistency.
But the best thing that happened to the Indian team in the recent past is certainly Bhuvneshwar Kumar. With his ability to swing the ball both ways along with impeccable line and length, he is certainly the best fast bowler in the current Indian line up. Kumar’s up-right seam position, perfect wrist, and a big heart to pitch the ball up to get that extra swing makes him a dangerous bowler. Another fast bowler, Mohit Sharma has also impressed many in his debut series by his ability to handle the new ball and consistency to pitch the ball in the right areas.
With so many talented lads around, competition is stiff between all the players. And it’s obvious that everyone has to perform whenever they get a chance to play in the playing XI. If the competition level is such at the moment when seniors like Bhajji, Yuvi, Zak, Gauti and Viru are struggling with their forms and fitness, then what would be the scenario when they too are back in form? And that’s the major reason that Indian team is winning back-to-back tournaments and is sitting comfortably at the top of the chart in the ICC’s ODI rankings. Due to this sole reason, Pakistani all-rounder Shahid Afridi recently stated: “Look at the way they have rebuilt their team even after the retirement of some of their top players. The talent they have is impressive and they can easily make two teams.”
Not only India has depth in their batting, Indian fielding too has undergone a sea change. From being a mediocre fielding unit, it has transformed into a formidable fielding side. However, bowling is the only department where India needs to work a bit more. As far as spinners are concerned, with R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Pragyan Ojha, India has enough spin options. But the fast bowlers have to play a major role if India wants to retain the World Cup.
Apart from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, no other fast bowler has shown consistency in the recent past. Umesh Yadav has the pace and bounce to trouble the best batsmen in the world and in pitches like Australia and New Zealand, where the next WC is to be held, he can be as lethal. But like Ishant Sharma, he also has to work on his consistency to bowl in proper channels.
Varun Aron is nursing his injury and needs to learn a lot. Mohit Sharma, J Unadkat and Mohammed Shami Ahmed are good future prospects for India but they need more exposure in the national team to gain the confidence and experience. Zaheer Khan is working hard on his fitness and if he manages to make a comeback in the Indian team, the Indian bowling unit will certainly get a boost for mission 2015.
But the acid test of these players will be in November this year, when the Indian team will be touring South Africa. Keeping their current form in mind, we can expect them to show a lot of teeth against the Proteas, who themselves need to rejuvenate as a unit.