Caribbean challenge

Cricket

Caribbean challenge

point to prove: Ishant Sharma gets another chance to show their class. India’s trip to the West Indies, their first international assignment after the historic World Cup triumph, was expected to be a parade of champions, a display of their awe-inspiring might. But it now resembles a kitty party after the withdrawals of star names, owing to various reasons.

An Indian squad without Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Ashish Nehra has elicited groans of disappointment from fans who want to see their favourite cricketers in action 24x7. The remarkable mass pull-out has also brought to the fore some issues that have been waiting to get fanned up — commitment to country, influence of the Indian Premier League and money on players and cricket in general topping the list.

On the cricketing front, the West Indians might be secretly fancying their chances against this Indian team, and surprise them at least in the five-match one-day series. The splendor days of the West Indian cricket are now found only in the romantic tales of a group of players who ruled the world with skill and flair. But the old masters still can hurt a few egos on their day as they showed Pakistan a few days back.

Admittedly, star value and firepower of this Indian squad have diminished after the pull-out of big names. But is the situation as chaotic as it is being made out to be? Certainly not, for the tour to the Caribbean might prove immensely beneficial to a bunch of players, struggling to make it big in top flight cricket despite truckloads of talent.
S Sreesanth, S Badrinath, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma and M Vijay have shown glimpses of their marvellous skills at various times. Moments like Sreesanth’s six-wicket burst at Johannesburg, Ishant putting a modern legend like Ricky Ponting through the wringer at Perth and Rohit dwarfing the mighty Australians in the CB series will forever be imprinted in memory.

Never-ending slide

It was during the time when Indian cricket chuffed to see the emergence of a vast pool of seriously talented youngsters. Their skills and desire to conquer the world were expected to give a new dimension to the country’s cricketing landscape, but nearly three years down the line, none of them have transformed into the anticipated world-beaters.

None of them, apart from Sreesanth, who was massively aided by fortune, were part of India’s epochal second World Cup triumph. It was as if they were on a never-ending slide after those moments of personal high.

It’s quite tough to touch upon a single reason to explain their sub-par run at the international level. If lack of sufficient and consistent chances impeded Badrinath and Vijay, temperament has been the enemy of Sreesanth and Rohit, while Ishant meddled with his craft so much that he seemed to have forgotten his ability to bowl fast.

It was painful to see these gifted young players often drifting in and out of the team when they would have been consistently leading India’s foray in the international arena. Soon they were shifted from the category of golden boys to the less pleasing line of squanderers, and one could not be blamed for viewing them as a generation lost, especially Rohit.

Lucky break

But as it sometimes happen in sports, luck came their way when it was least expected. In the absence of senior pros, they are certain to get reasonable chances in the West Indies, and they will perforce have to produce forceful efforts to stay in the range of selectors’ radar as an important season looms ahead in which India will take on England and Australia in their dens, tours that will require some replenishments.

The seniors will certainly walk into the Test and one-day sides once they are battle ready. But the pretenders will have to make a strong statement with their performances in the West Indies so that the five wise men will have some tough moments before deciding to replace them.

If their performances in IPL IV can be taken as a pointer, then there is a ray of hope. Rohit looked trim and seemed to be attaching high value to his wicket, Ishant looked the menacing fast bowler that he can be, even putting to shade a master like Dale Steyn at times, Badrinath was in fine touch for Chennai Super Kings, Sreesanth appeared to be in control of himself and his trade.

For this group, West Indies is the proverbial Promised Land, and they will have to remember that opportunity will not come knocking too many times.


Tell-tale figures of unrealised potential

* Ishant Sharma: Tests: 31, Wickets: 90; ODIs: 45, Wickets: 63.
* S Sreesanth: Tests: 24; Wickets: 79; ODIs: 53: Wickets: 75.
* Rohit Sharma: ODIs: 61, Runs: 1248, Average: 27.13.
* S Badrinath: Tests: 2, Runs: 56: Average: 21; ODIs: 3, Runs: 39;
Average: 19.50.
* M Vijay: Tests: 9; Runs: 537; Average: 38.35;
ODIs: 11, Runs: 196;
Average: 17.81.

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