It has to be the rarest of rare sights that Mahendra Singh Dhoni comes at a touching distance of the public and receives nothing more than a cursory glance. It’s also not often that Yuvraj Singh and Virat Kohli walk right in front of a generally cricket mad public and still there is no mad scramble for either autographs or photographs.
Dhoni, Yuvraj, Kohli and the Mumbai duo of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane hopped on the bus along with fellow passengers that ferried them to aircraft and without a glitch got into their first-class cabin. While the players, who were travelling to Rajkot from Mumbai for Friday’s first one-dayer against England, themselves may have enjoyed the little privacy they were accorded for a change, the usual lack of attention towards these players was striking.
May be the public was caught unawares by the sudden appearance of these stars but there is no denying that if the Indian cricketers don’t pick themselves up in the New Year, it’s quite possible that they will be treated like any other athlete in the country that plies his trade in less glamorous sport. Already there is a sort of indifference to defeats that India manage these days on a regular basis. While an extreme reaction is always dangerous, there was not even a sense of hurting when India lost the series to Pakistan.
Their last-gasp win over Pakistan in an inconsequential, but an enthralling, final ODI in Delhi may have helped them salvage some pride but India’s quest to regain the lost glory will be watched with great trepidation. Admittedly the team is in transition and there is no quick-fix solution for a team in transition. Yet, India’s free-fall from grace post their 2011 World Cup triumph has been alarming and there seems to be no immediate end to this.
Ironic as it may sound after presiding over an unprecedented nine Test defeats in less than two years, Dhoni remains unchallenged as captain and it could be a blessing in disguise for there is no better leader of men in the present set up to pull the team out of the rut it is in at the moment. With runs under his belt and India unlikely to play any away bilateral series till the end of December this year, the 31-year-old may just rediscover his Midas touch.
The five-match series against England, who not too long ago inflicted on India a humiliating Test defeat at their own den, will give a sign of things to come in some way or the other.
The exclusion of Virender Sehwag and the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar from ODIs will provide the team’s think-tank a welcome chance to try youngsters on a more regular basis. The likes of Ajinkya Rahane and the newly-selected Cheteshwar Pujara can thus bat without the fear of being sidelined at a later stage but not without feeling the pressure of competition from fellow youngsters such as Murali Vijay, Unmukt Chand, Manoj Tiwary (whenever he gets fit) or for that matter Manish Pandey. The pressure is not just on youngsters alone to deliver though. Some of the senior members, who survived the axe by a whisker, will have to find ways to get some runs under the belt or get ready to pack their bags.
Just when Zaheer Khan appeared to be on his last legs, India have found some encouraging young lot to bolster their pace department. Bengal’s Shami Ahmed, without being express fast, was impressively nippy in Delhi against Pakistan while Bhuvneshwar Kumar, if he adds a few more yards to his pace, can be a genuine match-winner in favourable conditions. Umesh Yadav, when fit, is the brightest prospect and Ishant Sharma finally has begun to show some signs of maturity. S Sreesanth has come back fitter and hungrier while Ashok Dinda, if mentored properly, will be a useful asset. And if the spinners can deliver on a more consistent basis, 2013 could be a different story altogether. For the moment, that’s a big if.