What next for India?

Updated: Sep 18, 2011, 16:43 PM IST

Vineet Ramakrishnan

This is probably the first time a World No.1 team of any sport got a drubbing like this in a series.

One whole month of distress, starting from the Lord’s to The Oval, England dictated terms to the hapless Indians in Tests and the same has happened in the ODIs as well.

2000th Test, No.1 spot at stake, freshly crowned ODI champions against the worthy challengers in the longer format, Mecca of cricket, Century of centuries for a certain legend, Dada back in the limelight with a microphone and what not. This was the marquee series of the year, and probably after the Ashes, most anticipated one as well.

The famed Indian batting line-up stacked up with legends was supposed to grind their teeth against a hostile bowling attack raring to go. But the hosts delivered the knockout punch first up itself.

A lot has now been said about the Indian team’s abject performance and criticism against BCCI and MS Dhoni has poured in like anything.

So indulging in India bashing once again would be highly boring and monotonous. But this is a reality check for India.

England was the far superior side; no doubt about it and they have worked for it. Probably from the 2009 Ashes win, they had been moving towards building a solid set-up and now they are reaping the results.

India on the other hand, peaked at 2009 and sustained the form for a bit and then the gradual downward spiral was evident.

Blame it on not prioritising Tests, bad man management or scheduling, this plight is not a reality check on what needs to be done from the management level to up India‘s game, but it is a reality check on the players, the squad of 18 or 20 currently in the Test and limited over set-up for India.

What this series has brought to light out of many things is that the strong Indian opening pair can withered away like sand, in a sandstorm, if it is up against really good bowling line-up.

Any criticism on charismatic Virender Sehwag is cut short using the phrase ‘natural game’. Whatever the situation calls for, Viru should play his natural game, and boom…and what did we get; a king pair, 8 and 33 at an avg. of 10.

Clearly, England had a plan to counter Sehwag’s natural game and Sehwag could have tweaked his plan to oppose that. Remember, even during his epic 319 at Multan, he started of very slowly according to his own standards. Every batsmen needs time in the middle to settle down. But with all the hooplah created of him being a saviour, Sehwag tried few things just too early (like trying to bludgeon the first ball to the ropes).

This is where your backup openers come into fray. Abhinav Mukund was in the scheme of things and he had played reasonably well. After the third Test giving him a second chance would not have hurt India.

Also, fact of the matter is, Gambhir was unlucky to get inured twice, which clearly hampered the Indian batting order. He was not having a good series with the bat and the freak injuries just added on the misery.

Without Sehwag, Gambhir looked out of sort and even this failure on his first trip to the England would serve him good. He could introspect on what more is there to improve.

Also, this series forces one to think about the future of Indian cricket, the famed middle order won’t be holding up this batting line-up for long. Not because they failed except for Rahul Dravid but, because of their age.

The transition phase for Indian cricket is knocking at the doors and it would be best to accept it as early as possible.

Gambhir is out with a concussion, Sehwag and Yuvraj out with injury and finally Zaheer out with surgery. In short, the core of the World Cup winning team is missing.

And this could be the blessing in disguise to try out some new talents or give a second chance to those who failed to make a mark first time around.

Here are few names that the selectors would be keeping an eye on:

Manoj Tiwary: The Bengal Ranji captain had a fabulous tour down under in the emerging players’ tournament and he is a solid mix of aggressive mindset and conscientious attitude.

In Tests, the No.6 slot is yet to be filled in after the void left by Saurav Ganguly. MS Dhoni has clearly failed to shine in that particular slot and Manoj Tiwary could be the answer.

Cheteshwara Pujara: If the unfortunate injury had not befallen this prodigal Test player, he would have been playing in England and would have kept Suresh Raina out of the Tests and out of his misery as well.

An apt replacement for Rahul Dravid, he could be a Test specialist but he needs game under his belt with Dravid as his mentor. The Australian series might as well prove to be the perfect breeding ground for the youngster.

Ambati Rayudu: When it comes to technique and flair of highest order, only two names come up – Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayadu. Sharma has made it to the next level though it has been a bumpy ride for him.

Rayadu’s prowess unfortunately is seen during IPL fixtures only but he has more to him that just Twenty20s. He could be the one replacing Sachin in that no. 4 slot in Tests when the little master decided to call it a day. Not to forget Virat Kohli would be the preferred choice and has asserted his position in limited over format and would not take much time to be a regular fixture in Tests as well.

Bhargav Bhatt: This 21-year old slow left-arm orthodox has a lot of promise. His debut Ranji season saw him picking up 47 wickets in nine matches to lead the Ranji wicket-takers tally and steer Baroda to the finals. Also when he featured for the Kings XI Punjab in IPL, he impressed everyone including KXIP captain Adam Gilchrist who had high hopes for him.

There are a lot of spinners in the fray for India currently, like Bhajji, Ravichandra Ashwin and Amit Mishra who are in the Indian team presently. Apart from them, Pragyan Ojha and Iqbal Abdulla do present their case ahead of Bhatt.

But when it comes to promise and potential Bhatt is clearly ahead Abdulla and maybe in front of Ojha as well.

It’s all about the flight and guile that Bhargav displayed in IPL that needs attention. Ojha, who was a deputy to Bhajji two years back, seems to have lost that art of flight and guile playing excessive IPL whereas someone like an Iqbal Abdulla is no better than a part-timer. He does not spin the ball at all and spinners are supposed to do that. To Bhatt’s credit he has the ability to spin it big.

Ashok Maneria: Similar to Ravinder Jadeja, he is a big hitting all-rounder, but he is a spinner. Again did well in the emerging players’ tourney but with Yusuf Pathan and Jadeja already there, it is highly unlikely that Maneria would get his chance in the near future. Though, he is a level headed bloke, captained the u-19 squad in the world cup.

Abhimanyu Mithun: Just because he looks like a fast bowler, very muscular and whatever we have seen of him, he is a workhorse.

Varun Aaron: He should be in the mix of things just for his sheer pace. He needs the proper guidance to sustain that pace. He lacks the build of a fast bowler but if he does not compromise on his pace, he would be someone to look out for in the near future.

But again, the need of a fast bowling all-rounder still remains. The very species of such talents are taken to a divine level by Sir Garry Sobers, Ian Botham, Jacques Kallis, Freddie Flintoff, Kapil Dev et al.

Unfortunately, a talent like that is missing from the domestic circuit or to be more precise one such talent is moving towards obscurity in the form of Irfan Pathan.

Probably what India need is just the blue-eyed boy, Irfan Pathan.

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