Bold brigade on a roll

Bold brigade on a roll

Bold brigade on a roll

After parting ways with several senior players, India seem to have found their men for the future.

At the start of this year, Indian cricket was gripped by fear and uncertainty. Sachin Tendulkar had announced his retirement from ODIs, Zaheer Khan’s fitness hung in balance, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were fading, Yuvraj Singh was a mere shadow of his former explosive self, and Harbhajan Singh too was pushed to the sidelines.

All of them had played crucial roles in India’s World Cup victory just two years ago, and suitable replacements for them were not to be seen anywhere. Many predicted it as the beginning of the Dark Age for Indian cricket, and exhorted us to prepare for a period of frustrating mediocrity and morale-crushing defeats. Even a 4-0 Test series win against Australia at home wasn’t enough to raise visions of a revival. After all, the Antipodeans were no longer the all-conquering force that they were, but a unit reeling under the effects of transition.

In that darkness-waiting-to-descend scenario the selection committee under Sandeep Patil took over, and they opted for surgery instead of some cosmetic measures. The new panel dropped all the non-performing members, irrespective of their past records and induced fresh faces. There were voices of dissent when Patil & Co picked a young team for the ICC Champions Trophy. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the oldest member in that side at 31. But that young squad won the Champions Trophy in some style without losing even one match. Critics, though, might have been secretly glad when the same Indian side lost two matches in a row to the West Indies and Sri Lanka in the tri-series in the Caribbean.

But India showed remarkable grit to storm into the final, and survive a tight race to grab the title – the second consecutive triumph for this young side. So, is it the rise of a new Indian side? Have we found the nucleus of a team that will last till the World Cup in 2015 and may be even beyond that?

Of course, this side is far from being a finished product, and there will certainly be some changes when it finally and truly hit the road to the World Cup. But the last month or so has offered ample portents that this young side has the skills and temperament to succeed against all comers, thus far vindicating the faith placed on them by the selectors.

This is not to say that the old warhorses should be thrown into the dustbin like sodden tomatoes, but they will require a massive effort to earn their places back. Each member of this young side has been impressive at various stages of the Champions Trophy and the tri-series. Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Dinesh Karthik, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and Bhuvenshwar Kumar produced forceful performances that underlined their status as the world champions, also strengthening their position as the No 1 one-day side.

But beyond that, the Champions Trophy and the tri-series offered three bright beacons that India would like to build on in the future. Rohit has always been marked for big things at the highest level, but the Mumbai man has never managed to meet the expectations with consistent performances, often throwing his wicket away after looking good for many more runs.

The Champions Trophy, however, saw a marked transformation in Rohit. Promoted as an opener, he played well within himself, supporting the free-flowing Dhawan. His 177 runs from five matches at 35.40 may not have the glitter of Dhawan’s 363 from same number of matches at a shade over 90, but he was the ideal foil for the aggressive left-hander.

Rohit’s good touch spilled over to the tri-series as well, as he amassed 217 runs from five ties at a little over 54. But more than the runs, his willingness to look ugly and the prize he put on his wicket was more inspiring.

Ishant Sharma too could be bracketed with Rohit because the Delhi pacer never managed consistent performances at the top level despite possessing strong weapons like height, pace and bounce.

Perhaps, for the first time in his career, Ishant produced two back-to-back valuable efforts. In Champions Trophy, he took 10 wickets from five matches, two wickets behind India’s leading wicket-taker Jadeja (12), and took eight more from five tri-series matches, to complete two highly satisfactory legs of cricket.

With India inching closer to an array of away tours it’s imperative that they have a leader for their pace attack. In the past, Ishant never looked ready to assume that role, but in England and the West Indies he showed fire and maturity, and that should augur well for India in the coming season.

The talk of Kohli taking over the reins of the Indian team from Dhoni at some point of time in the future has been doing rounds for a while now. And we got a chance to see the glimpse of future when Kohli led India in the league phase of the tri-series in place of the injured Dhoni. The Delhiite is an animated presence on the field unlike Dhoni, and he displayed the steel beneath the show with a hundred in a must-win tie against the Windies.

There may be a feeling of India having demolished the old, familiar order in search of the new, but they have taken that inevitable path with a welcome boldness.

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