THERE is a certain unpredictability attached to cricket that lends itself to a vulnerability that only the very best teams in the history of the game have been able to overcome, albeit for limited periods of time. India has, at no point of time in its cricket history, achieved the status of being invincible, a tag reserved for the formidable West Indies team led by Clive Lloyd in the eighties or the Steve Waugh-led Australians in the nineties.
India has had its share of successes but has never really dominated world cricket, except when playing at home. Many believe the present Virat Kohli-led team has the potential to be classified one day as the strongest ever Indian side. This was what even their coach Ravi Shastri believed, while making pronouncements to that effect on a tour to Sri Lanka last year.
The Indians embarked on their England tour with hopes of proving all those who contested Shastri’s claims wrong. This is their best chance to steamroll an English side which is struggling in Test cricket, even while playing in home conditions. In the build-up to the Test series that unfolds soon, the Indians began well in the limted-over format. The English batting, easily among the most formidable in one-dayers, was stumped initially by the mysteries of the spinning ball unleashed by two wrist spinners – Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. The horizon looked bright and full of luminous hope after the T20 series win and the walloping they gave England in the first one-dayer. India looked unstoppable.
Two more matches later the Indians are a worried outfit, no longer flashing victory signs and instead talking about middle-order failures, MS Dhoni’s possible retirement, poor team selection and badly managed injury problems of its leading medium pacers. If one reads the newspapers today, it would appear the team has little hope of doing well in the Test series.
That sums up how cricket is a game which is hard to predict, its future course not as certain as one would like to believe when the going is good. To vacillate between optimism and pessimism may be sports’ greatest virtues as it lends a touch of suspense to the “what next?” moment.
Will India be able to do what it promised before it left for the English shores? Has the redoubtable English top-order dented the Indian morale and would this impact the Test series? Will Kohli be snarling with positive energy while celebrating his centuries or will he fall by the wayside, like it happened when he played there the last time. The most significant of questions should be regarding what kind of impression Indian spinners will make in the series. Will Kuldeep remain a white-ball wonder or will he extend his mystique to the Test arena as well? More importantly, will he be picked ahead of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja?
There will be questions and more questions that a sports fan always seeks answers to before each match. There is more excitement in the uncertainty of the future than in the “dullness” of the present moment. In the fear of the future which is burdened by the past, the present becomes irrelevant.
The Indian pace attack may feel weakened in the absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar but its batting should get strengthened by the return of three Test match specialists in Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane.
Though pessimists may sing their dirge, there is much to look forward to in a series which lasts for five Tests. It should test the endurance and stamina of not just the two sides but of the followers as well.