After two back-to-back, thumping wins thousands of miles apart by the Indian cricket team over the last 24 hours, it is perhaps time to ponder over the question: is it the golden era of Indian cricket?
Given that we were beaten 2-1 in the Test series against South Africa, the question may seem out of place, premature or even outrageous to some. But what lends it legitimacy is the way our boys have performed in the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand. One just has to look at the margins of victory to realise the emphatic, all-conquering nature of our boys who, it goes without saying, are the future of Indian cricket. After having thrashed Australia by 100 runs in the opener, the Indian Colts went on to wallop Papua New Guinea and Zimbabwe by 10 wickets, Sri Lanka by 131 runs, arch rival Pakistan by an incredible 203 runs before trouncing Australia again by eight wickets in the final on Saturday. They didn’t allow a single match to go to the wire and won each of them well before the 100 overs were completed. Rarely has a team enjoyed that kind of complete dominance throughout a tournament. What was particularly heart warming about the steamrolliing victory was the emergence of fast bowlers Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi, who sent shivers down the spine of rival batsmen with their thunderbolts clocked at 145+ kph. In a team that has been at the receiving end of searing pace for far too long, this was a refreshing change.
Meanwhile, our pacemen in the senior team in South Africa showed that rival teams can now prepare pacy, bouncy wickets against India at their own peril. After the nightmare they had to go through at The Wanderers, South Africa must have realised the futility – even foolishness – of trying to exploit the well known weakness of our batsmen against quality pace on bouncy pitches. Opponents from now on would realise that Indian fast bowlers can now give as good as they get – even better – when it comes to such wickets. Dean Elgar, who earned bruises all over his body in scoring a valiant 89 not out in a losing cause, would certainly agree. England must be getting a little jittery about the prospects of facing the likes of Bhuvneswar Kumar and Mohammed Shami (who can rattle the best on his day as he showed in the second innings), followed by Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and others.
As for our batsmen, the same Test showed that they have it in him to score against scorching pace (Cagiso Rabada was consistently clocking close to 150 kph) on bouncy or two-paced wickets in foreign countries where they used to surrender without a fight not very long ago.
Looking at the way our batsmen performed in the last Test, there is reason to believe that the result of the series would have been different had India prepared better by landing in South Africa earlier than they did and playing a few practice matches to get used to the pace and bounce of South Africa before the Test series began, instead of playing a pointless series against the listless Sri Lankan at home. It doesn’t speak very highly of the team management’s sense of priorities that they chose not to play the lone practice match scheduled before the first Test and opted to practice in the nets instead which, as anyone with a nodding acquaintance with cricket knows, can never be a substitute for playing a match. One can only hope that the lesson has been learnt and the blunder will not be repeated in England this summer. But with the IPL, the centrepiece of the Indian cricket calendar these days (everything else is just incidental), continuing till late May, the prospects of a proper preparation ahead of the Test series against the Pommies look really bleak.
The team management must also take the blame for some strange selection decisions. Notwithstanding the vehemence with which coach Ravi Shastri and captain Virat Kohli have sought to defend their decision to opt for Rohit Sharma instead of the ever reliable Ajinkya Rahane, who has a stellar record in foreign countries, in the first two Tests, it is obvious that the decision was plain wrong. The ‘current form’ argument that they used to justify the selection falls flat on its face considering Bhuvneswar Kumar was dropped in the second Test after giving a dream start while bowling and then saving the team the blushes in the company of Hardik Pandya while batting in the first Test. When Rahane was finally selected after two back to back failures of Rohit, he left no one in doubt why Shastri’s pathetic attempt to defend the indefensible should be dismissed with the contempt it deserved. As someone who has followed cricket, especially of the five-day variety, for decades, I dare say we could have actually won the Test series had it not been for these selection blues.
The thumping nature of the two back to back wins in the one-day series has only reinforced our prowess in the limited overs game. Our spin duo Yajuvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have bamboozled the Protean batsmen even aa our batsmen, led by the peerless Kohli, have made mincemeat of the South African attack. With trump cards Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers – and now captain Faf du Plessis – not available, one can’t really see how the South African team can come back in the series.
To go back to our boys who did us proud in the Under 19 World Cup, they contain the core of the team of the future senior team. And it is they give us the hope that the Golden Era of Indian cricket is just round the corner, if it hasn’t dawned already!
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are 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.)