One of the luxuries enjoyed by mankind is the capacity to gaze ahead in time and create a future that eliminates the sour spots of the past. Unlike the past, which can’t be changed, with the events gone by cast in stone, the future seems to be in our hands as the events have yet to take place and can be imagined as one wishes.
Indian sports in 2017 had many bright spots, the uppermost being the phenomenal home run of the cricketers and the brilliance of its badminton stars on the world horizon. If Virat Kohli and his men performed an expected role, winning match after match in home conditions, the women too were not far behind. Mithali Raj and her brave, gutsy girls made the World Cup finals, forcing a nation of male chauvinists to take note of a world other than their own. PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth continued to storm the badminton world with their superlative exploits, raising hopes for better things to come.
The year 2017 is now behind us and the year ahead holds rich promise for Indian sports. Will one of our badminton stars become the world number one and will we as a team become the unbeatables? Given the depth and variety of players India possesses at the moment, it is very possible that the country will be the dominant badminton nation in the world.
Hope too beckons in the year of the Asian and Commonwealth Games, though the future is a bit hazy here due to the financial crunch our top athletes have been subjected to. The money is not reaching athletes whose training expenses were taken care of by Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) run by the sports ministry, due to administrative problems. This, it is felt, will affect the performance of our athletes and there is apprehension that India’s performance in these multi-discipline events will fall short of expectations.
Since our sports begins and ends with a game called cricket, the focus of the nation will remain glued on the men in whites as well as blues as they now embark on a road littered with uncertainties of playing in foreign lands. There is joy to be had in winning in conditions even if tailor-made for our needs, but greater elation comes when one can overcome adverse conditions. Over the years, India have been known the world over as poor travellers — not that many teams can boast of winning away from home, especially in the present times.
What has kindled hope, that now is the time for India to shed its tag of ‘lions at home, lambs abroad’, is the team’s all-round strength and depth in bowling. Rarely has an Indian side left the shores with a pack of quick bowlers who can match the best anywhere in the world. As India play South Africa, followed by England and Australia on their grounds, they can combat fire with fire. On bouncy, seaming, swinging conditions, it is always difficult for batsmen to score heavily and where India lost out in the past was in not being able to exploit these conditions to their advantage.
Sourav Ganguly’s team did try to make corrections but those wins were one-offs, and they were never a set of self-assured men who had made winning their habit, regardless of what the opposition had to offer.
Will Virat’s team go where no other Indian team ever has — become number one in the world, not just on the strength of home performances but by winning fair and square away from it? Ravi Shastri, the man who has seen the world from both sides – from inside as well as outside – genuinely believes that this team has the potential to be the best ever India team. This may be a huge statement to make, but he is not alone in this assessment. There are many more skeptics who too, even if grudgingly, agree that Indian cricket is on the upswing. India’s bulging financial balance sheet can now be matched by its performance on the field.
The main worry for India could be its batting. Will those who have made a habit of smashing records on slow, low turners, be able to stand up to pace and swing? And will the seamers fulfil the potential everyone is seeing in them? There are many slips between the cup and the lip. One minor tremor and the cup can fall and shatter into pieces before it kisses the lips.
Looking beyond India’s performance, the cricket world on the cusp of something major. A convulsion is taking place, with the T20 leagues shaking the world structure. The Test format could get redefined. Already a four-day Test was played and there is a clamour for making these experiments more regular with the onslaught of the shortest version of the game shaking the very roots of the game’s traditions.
Teams like Sri Lanka and West Indies are struggling to survive in the longer format. They are being pushed deeper into a quagmire by financial sharks controlling the game, whose main aim is to maximize profits generated from the popularity of the mushrooming T-20 leagues.
The time is not far off when the Indian Premier League will become the centre-piece of the international cricketing calendar. All other competitions, shorter or longer, would be a prop to bolster the biggest money-spinner of the game.