India's pool of Test cricketers is the best it has ever been
The seer and soothsayer, each indignant at being clubbed with the other, hardly get it right in India. The world, for example, hasn’t ended yet, though some might believe we have tried very hard. And the rupee like a fallible child, always goes the other way. And yet here I am taking a call on the future of Indian cricket. Truly as modern rhapsodists have said, we are like that only!
For long, some of us have been desiring that India should have created a pool of twenty-five to thirty players like Australia and South Africa from which they can select a national team with a hindsight of eight to ten years, and they can choose eleven players randomly every time. I know it doesn’t work that way, Messi would weaken any team by his absenteeism, but good teams hope to get jobs done. The Indian team that beat Sri Lanka in their own backyard in the second Test was without Dhawan, Shami, Bhuvneshwar, Aaron and Harbhajan, five names who would make a first eleven on most days.
So here is the list that thrills me immensely: Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Ambati Rayudu, W Saha, Naman Ojha, Stuart Binny, Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav, M Shami, Akshar Patel, Dhawal Kulkarni and Karn Sharma.
To this list add one day cricket specialists MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, Robin Uthappa and Sandeep Sharma and you have as fine a batch of thirty players as the country could hope for.
The first thing that strikes you is how young the Test side is. Even if you take some of the ages with necessary pinch of salt, it is still a collection that one can look ahead with. Of those that played the first game against Sri Lanka, only Harbhajan Singh had made his debut in early 2000s, a mere five years after Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra had first appeared; most of the remaining players had made their debuts after 2010, such a stat shows how inexperienced this Test side is.
Happily, there is a competition for every spot and that means players will have to be on their toes; a quality that Indian cricket has not always been blessed with. Amit Mishra is making the most of Karn Sharma’s absence and Vijay and Rahane could raise questions on how much Dravid could be missed. The batting order is yet to be tested in seaming conditions.
An energetic fielding unit
And they can field. Except for Ishant Sharma, Varun Aaron, Amit Mishra and Ashwin, you really don’t need to hide anyone and for the first time, you get the feeling that maybe young Indian players are also getting contemporary. This would be a great time to raise the bar and make this an intimidating fielding side.
The bar doesn’t have to be raised by too much, but as high jumpers will tell you, it is the last few centimeters that actually make the difference. The key will be attitude and that is the one variable we can look at with great enthusiasm. Too many players in this side have had slumps that could be attributed to attitude. This is where Ravi Shastri's real test will come.
I wish the BCCI takes this aspect a bit more seriously. With Varun, Rohit, Virat and Jadeja, in recent times, they have players who have struggled to cope with the position they find themselves in. And they are by no means the only four. It may not earn anyone any money but it is no less crucial to the strength of Indian cricket that young men learn to cope. To show aggression but to find the moment to release it is a giant, and therefore, elusive quality.
I like one other aspect of this side. There is far greater flexibility, there are people who can play in different positions and I believe Rahane, Rohit and Binny are representative of this. Rahane can bat at three and five and Rohit can also bat at three and five as per situation demands and Binny is an ideal in the lower middle order.
If Ashwin can bat a bit more and Binny can bowl a bit fast, the side will have the perfect balance to it, except for just one slot, a top order batsman who can bowl seam up. Till that man is sighted, this team will remain far more formidable in sub-continent conditions than in conditions that help quicker bowling.
I will be very excited, given that first Test championship 2017 is in England, if this squad of cricketers doesn’t make India favourites to win it, recent performances of soothsayers and seers notwithstanding.