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Does India have the best bench strength in world cricket at the moment?

Faisal Caesar
SENIOR ANALYST
Feature
15 Sep 2016, 15:22 IST
The future of Indian cricket is good as because their bench strength but they need to utilize them well.  
 

A match between Madras vs. Calcutta in 1864, perhaps, was the first ever match which led to the journey of First-class cricket in the Indian subcontinent. To be specific, First-class cricket began in 1892–93 season with two Europeans vs. Parsees matches, at Bombay and Poona. During the same season, an English team, led by Lord Hawke, played four First-class matches, including a game against "All India" on from January 26 to 28, 1893.

Gradually, the Indian domestic structure started to take a better and competitive shape and became one of the breeding grounds for producing legendary cricketers. Since their entrance into the world of Test cricket, India has presented some of the distinguished cricketers who gave the Indian cricket name, fame and a unique stature. From the likes of CK Nayudu to the present day master Virat Kohli, the majority of the legends are the products of a well-equipped first class structure of India.

When Sourav Ganguly’s men stunned England at Lord’s in front of a packed crowd at the Natwest tri-nation final, the face of Indian cricket started to change. Within two to three years, Ganguly’s men had become one of the feared customers in cricket and the Indians shrugged off their tag of “home track bullies” to champion performers all around the world.

Their urge and determination to become the best team knew no bounds and keeping in mind about this daring wish, the Indian domestic structure started to change as well.

In the past, the Indian First-class structure did produce legends, but it was more about individual charisma rather than the mentality to reach the top. What Ganguly’s success did, infused the urge to dream big and reach the top, no matter how tough the circumstances are! It propelled the process of building a strong bench strength, which never occurred in the past.

Also read: Fans hold banner asking the return of Gautam Gambhir to the national team


India, at present, are not a unit who will sit down and celebrate after beating any particular team, but their ambition is to become the best team in the world and if a team wishes to claim themselves as the best, surely, they need to have a strong bench strength as well.

The greatest teams in the history of Test cricket, West Indies and Australia, could rule the roost only because they were blessed with some outstanding players on the bench who could fill in the gaps of either a Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Steve Waugh or Matthew Hayden. 

A source from the BCCI said a few days back, “The idea is that our bench strength should be ready if and when there is an SOS call. India will be playing New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia. It is a long season ahead and Kumble wants to identify players and to see which format they fit into, if not all. While the top players pick themselves, horses for courses will be his mantra when it comes to shuffling players around. It’s the roadmap for India during his tenure, and he’s very keen on taking this team forward.”

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The source then added, “Kumble is sure that if the Indian team has to move forward, all stakeholders will have to work together. He can’t change things on his own. The Indian team has played good cricket at home, but he wants to get different views on what is needed for them to do well overseas, like probably having more exposure trips for our bench strength.”

The Indian think tank is working accordingly and one can say, India does have some competent performers waiting on the bench to deliver the goods whenever it is needed.

India have a competent bench strength

Nathu Singh is one of those promising prospects who is already creating a lot of buzz in the Indian cricket fraternity. He is tall and strongly built and his pace and discipline, not only has he tested the likes of Gautam Gambhir but also has earned praise from the legend Rahul Dravid.

Then there is that 24-year old Shardul Thakur whose appetite for wickets is huge and apart from performing consistently in the domestic cricket, he has been excellent for India A in Australia. Thakur’s bowling was a treat to watch in the second innings where he picked up three wickets and his ability to bounce the ball and shoot one of the fuller lengths at pace was staggering enough.

Saurashtra’s multi-dimensional Sheldon Jackson is another consistent performer and has always been regarded as the ideal replacement of MS Dhoni in Test cricket. With the bat, he averages 122 from three matches in the ongoing Duleep Trophy and his wicketkeeping and fielding abilities makes him a handy customer.

Meanwhile, Manish Pandey’s recent performance in Downunder with the Indian A team has given a strong message, he’s not a limited-overs performer but can strike gold in the game’s longer format as well.

Also read: Duleep Trophy 2016: Team of the tournament

21-year-old Kuldeep Yadav is a left-arm chinaman bowler and is blessed with the ability to pick wickets consistently. We don’t see left-arm chinamen in plenty these days and in that sense, Kuldeep is a rare case and is expected to give the Indian bowling attack a new dimension if given a chance. 17 scalps from three matches in the ongoing Duleep trophy at the strike rate and average of 42 and 27.88 indicate about his hunger for wickets.

Shreyas Gopal came into the Karnataka side as a middle-order batsman who could bowl leg spin, and ended up as the lead spinner's role. He took 22 wickets at an average of 18.22 in his first Ranji Trophy season, as Karnataka claimed the 2013-14 title, and followed it up with a hat-trick against the Rest of India in the Irani Cup. If Amit Mishra is unavailable, India can invest faith in him.

Sanju Samson burst into the scene through Indian Premier League, but he was not one of those players to sit down and enjoy the tag of being a limited-overs cricketer. He dreams big and thus, made him available in the longer formats of the domestic cricket and performed consistently in the last Ranji trophy.  The young wicketkeeper-batsman from Kerala was also appointed skipper of his side for the new season.

Shreyas Iyer is an attacking batsman and can mix caution with aggression very well. In the last Ranji Trophy, he scored plenty of runs, 1321 runs at an average of 73.38, including a century in the final, to help Mumbai storm to their 41st title. He is a great option for the Indian middle-order who often finds it tough when the likes of Rohit Sharma gets dismissed too early.

Again, one cannot deny the talent and abilities of Karun Nair, whose expertise with the willow in the last Ranji Trophy had been a big boost for his team while his solidity in technique aids him to stay at the crease against the very good bowling attacks.  

Problems with the opening pair for India

India’s conundrum with the opening slot is a matter of debate. Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul have been tried and tested. Shikhar has not been able to live up to the expectations and thus, someone like Mayank Agarwal could be an ideal replacement. He is a prolific opening batsman and suits the style of modern day batsmanship. In the ongoing Duleep Trophy, he has fetched 420 runs at an average of 84 from three matches. His highest score 161 runs was an exhibition of technique and temperament.

Unmukt Chand caught the eye of the world during the Under-19 World Cup in 2012, but since then, he failed to justify his talent. He chose to polish his skill in the domestic circuit and struggled early on, but in the last season of the Ranji Trophy, he was found among the runs and knocked the doors of the selectors for a call in the national squad.

Ravi Ashwin is India’s one and only all-rounder in the Test squad. He is more of a bowling all-rounder rather than competent in both. Someone like Rishi Dhawan can fill the number six spot and give Virat Kohli a great option to build his around a genuine allrounder.

Even the old warhorses like Gautam Gambhir, Dinesh Karthik and Robin Uthappa have been prolific performers on the domestic circuit. A healthy competition between the old guns and young talents is benefiting the Indian cricket a lot. The scenario is almost like West Indies of the 80s and Australia of last decade where this competitiveness only enriched them.

So, the Indians have a very competent bench strength at the moment. But these promising youngsters must be utilised accordingly. The Indian selectors ignored some of the performers for the upcoming Test series against New Zealand and invested faith in those, who have ended up with wooden spoons.

To become the best team in the world, it is very important to maneuver the talents available and produce the best in the business by giving them adequate exposure in international cricket. Wasting time on someone like Rohit Sharma in Test cricket will not help team India reach the top.  

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