Miriam Makeba, a South African singer and a civil rights activist, describes her homeland as, "Africa has her mysteries and even a wise man cannot understand them. But a wise man respects them".
Winning the Test series in South Africa was perhaps an easier task than emerging victorious in the ODI format. Test matches are longer, and so the better team must make better decisions for a longer period of time and thus is more likely to win. And for most cricketing reasons, India’s test team looked like being technically and tactically superior when compared to the hosts. Beyond this point, there were way too many mysteries that cropped up as India won the first test but lost the series. They then played 3 ODI games and lost every single one of them.
Nobody knows how a champion-like red-ball unit suddenly looked like a bunch of survivors in the African wilderness. More so, It was difficult to digest how nobody in their top six batters in the ODI leg could reach the 3-figure mark!
Concern should always come with context. India are 5th on the points table of the World Test Championship and need to win most of their remaining tests to give themselves a chance to qualify for the finals. Thus, while hosting Sri Lanka later this February, they must be ruthless. Even that is just myopic dressing. The shift in leadership will be most felt in the five-day game.
If KL Rahul is to continue leading in the whites, he will have massive shoes to fill. Captaincy in Test cricket is often down to just picking the right men for the jobs. The on-field dynamics sooner or later take care of themselves. The fact that Rahul is an opener and that constitutes the toughest batting assignment in a Test match, means he is bound to register a few low scores. Hence, his greatest challenge will be to compartmentalise his batting and captaincy.
He will need all the support he can get from Rishabh Pant, who can no longer be just a maverick in the team. The management has shown enough trust in him for him to be just a player who occasionally changes the game. He needs to be more than that. His flamboyance must be shaped and raised within the team. If the wicket-keeper is aware and has a definite voice in the side, the on-field captain feels empowered.
The recurring issue in the middle-order needs to be looked at. There needs to be a change in personnel because it is established that we have already seen the best of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane.
As far as 50-over cricket is concerned, because the next World Cup is in their own backyard, one would think India are not too far from finding their best XI. Rohit Sharma has worked hard to improve his fitness, and he should be able to resume his leadership role in both limited-overs formats beginning next month against the West Indies.
The return of Shikhar Dhawan in ODIs is a massive positive. In the next few ODI games that India plays, three against West Indies at home and three away in England, they will have to decide if they want their top four to be Dhawan, Rahul, Rohit, and Kohli. Shreyas Iyer will and should get a longer rope.
But while doing so, they need to keep an eye out for the rest, like Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, and Ruturaj Gaikwad, and keep them ready if their services are required at some point in time. There needs to be a conversation about their individual roles. In South Africa, in all the three ODIs, it was only Dhawan who carried some form of intent out of the top three, and that cannot be the case in modern day ODI cricket.
In the absence of Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant is still India’s greatest X-factor. Pandya, though, might be looking at a longer road of revival with the evolution of Shardul Thakur and Deepak Chahar, both of whom have shown enough batting intelligence to be slotted as the designated bowling all-rounder. Then there is Venkatesh Iyer, who will only get better as he gets more game time.
If Yuzvendra Chahal is to be a part of the greater scheme of things, then he ought to be playing continuously for wrist-spin like most cricketing disciplines are about rhythm. With Ravichandran Ashwin already in the mix, when you add Ravindra Jadeja to that list, the spin bowling department looks settled in the ODIs.
At best, Jasprit Bumrah looks half as good when compared to his peak form. Even if he is out of form, that still isn’t India’s greatest concern. Bumrah must believe he has a bigger role to play in the ODI set-up. He is the undisputed veteran of that pace cartel. Going back to Bhuvneshwar Kumar should not be the only resort. Which is why Bumrah’s role is to help Indian cricket raise the canvas and see to it that the likes of Mohammad Siraj, Prasidh Krishna, and Avesh Khan are given enough game time and learning to make them game ready.
The shortest format is perhaps the trickiest of them all. Not just because there is a World Cup in October, but because it is in Australia. To think that the upcoming, bigger and better Indian Premier League (IPL) will be a perfect platform to pick that team from will be too simple an idea to live with, but unfortunately, it will be. That is the kind of world we live in.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)