The vibrant young Indian outift led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni can only improve in the years ahead

Friday, June 13, 2021

The right balance - skill, agility, age and experience

Arun G

Bangalore: 23 – that’s the average age of the current Indian team taking part in the Kitply Cup Tri-Nation series in Bangladesh.

Consider this. Virender Sehwag, 29 years old, with nine years of international cricket behind him, is the most experienced cricketer in the current Indian team. That’s far from the days, when the Indian team had a handful of players on the other side of thirty, with more than 10 years of international cricket behind them.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), and its selectors, must be commended for appointing MS Dhoni as captain of the Indian team – at least for the limited overs version of the game. At a time when the game has become that much more demanding, both physically and mentally, that was just the need of the hour. A young captain, and fresh thoughts, and a go-getter attitude were necessary to succeed at the international level, and Dhoni had all of this and much more.

It is quite refreshing to witness a top-class Indian fielding outfit
Like Sourav Ganguly much before him, Dhoni too has emphasised on youth – not without a reason though, and the results are there to see. With Dhoni at the helm, and with a young brigade under him, the Indian team have had a fabulous run in the last ten months. India won the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 championship, then beat Pakistan in a one day series at home, and went on to win the tri-series in Australia – that, for the first time in the history of Indian cricket. The only blemish in Dhoni’s ten-month run has been losing the 7-match home series to Australia.

A close look at the players who’ve played under Dhoni, and contributed to these successes indicates that Indian cricket today is in safe hands. You’ve got abundance of talent, from which to choose to fill in all facets of the game.

Starting with the top of the order – as many as four different players - Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Robin Uthappa, Sachin Tendulkar - can compete for the openers slots. The middle order too has a crowded look to it; Robin Uthappa can bat equally well at three and at number six; then there’s Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, and the captain himself, who are all capable of batting at different positions in the order, as the situation demands.

The Pathan brothers, Irfan, and Yusuf now, along with Piyush Chawla, are more than handy all rounders, as their numbers in first class cricket will indicate – the batting averages of Yusuf and Piyush are better than their bowling averages, while Irfan’s batting average is just two points below his bowling average – and that’s a fair indication of the all round talent these three players possess. Further, given these three can strike the ball clean, they will be more than handy contributors to the limited overs team.

From a time when India struggled to find able replacements for Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, India suddenly have an abundance of talent in the fast bowling department. Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth, RP Singh, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Ishant Sharma, VRV Singh, Praveen Kumar, and now Manpreet Gony – that’s a tall list of capable, aggressive and intimidating quick bowlers.

21-year old Praveen Kumar has swivelled into prominence out of nowhere
The spin bowling cupboard in India has been bare for a few years now. Harbhajan Singh has been India’s number one spinner in the limited overs game for a few years now, and he will continue to tutor the likes of Piyush Chawla and the latest addition to the tribe, Pragyan Ojha. Murali Kartik and Ramesh Powar, two spinners who’ve generally been forgotten despite their performances, will continue to be knocking on the door, and that will keep the young spinners on their heels.

The two other exciting things about this Indian team - the ground fielding and the running between the wickets. India has historically never been known to be a great fielding team, nor have Indian batsmen been the best in running between the wickets. But the current brigade excites you; Yuvraj Singh, Robin Uthappa, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Gautam Gambhir, Piyush Chawla, Yusuf Pathan and a whole host of others have shown the inclination to throw themselves at the ball – an attitude which was missing in the eras gone by. Indian fielders might still not be hitting the stumps direct as often as some of their counterparts from other parts of the world, but given they get to the ball in a hurry, collect it and release it quickly – that is most part of the job neatly done.

The attitude of batsmen to pinch quick singles, and convert twos into threes has also meant that the Indians are always on the look out for runs – that only puts more pressure on the fielding side, which could turn out to India’s benefit. There were times when Indian batsmen were more than happy playing the ball, and waiting to see it go past the fielder before deciding on a run – not anymore.

This new Indian team, with an equally capable bench strength, has shown that they have what it takes to compete with the best in international cricket. They’ve challenged the might Australians on more than one occasion in recent times – can they do that consistently to dethrone the Aussies from their numero uno position? Only time will tell.