CHENNAI: Dissections and reflections over, as Indian cricket embarks on a fresh year — irrespective of how the year bygone has been—there is new-found hope. Hope in a young leader with unbridled brio, as the season unfolds with the Sydney Test on January 6.
The series beyond them — sewn in Melbourne — the Test will hold relevance of its own, and could be an oracle to how India’s philosophy could be under their new skipper Virat Kohli, who in his audition has purveyed a no-holds-barred approach that was amiss towards the end of his predecessor’s reign. Hence, there is widespread optimism.
Though Dhoni’s abrupt retirement came as a shock than surprise, many reckoned this was perhaps the best time to pass over the reins of a team that has in Australia showed promise and fight, though still a study in progress. A few believe it won’t be long before he is handed over the responsibility of leading the country in the limited-over versions, too. Few others opine that his young shoulders shouldn’t be burdened with too many responsibilities too early.
Whether he would take over from Dhoni will depend on how India would fare in the World Cup, that begins on the St Valentine’s Day. The Mumbai night, in which India reclaimed the title, is still fresh in the mind’s reels. But much water had flown under the bridge, so much so that only four members of the team of 2011 are in the list of probables, which will be pruned on January 6. Some of the notables have retired, some have regressed and some others have been flushed headlong into oblivion.
The team, more or less, is untested, especially outside the subcontinent, and it will be as much as test of nerves as skill. “It’s an exciting group of youngsters, but they are largely untested outside the subcontinent. They have the talent and firepower, but World Cups will always have a lot of pressure on you, especially when you are trying to defend the title. But definitely, India will be one of the favourites,” rates former cricketer Arun Lal.
Their fortunes, at least on paper, hinge on their match winners with the willow than their crew of bowlers, which is utilitarian at best and bereft of a fast-bowling all-rounder. That they have a tri-series as a build-up to the World Cup will benefit the team in terms of acclimatisation. “This will be a significant tournament in terms of exposure to the conditions. Also, many of them have been part of the Tests series as well. That also gives them the time to find the best combination for the conditions,” he elaborates.
By the time the curtains fall on the quadrennial event, some clarity would have reached on the IPL spot-fixing and betting scandal, which has been denting Indian cricket’s credibility for the last year and a half. The outcome will also determine the fate of stepped aside boss N Srinivasan, now clutching at the straws to make himself eligible for a second term as president. There is a strain of swelling impatience in the power corridors of the world’s richest cricket board, and the more time it consumes for a conclusive verdict, the bleaker his prospects could be. BCCI will have to seek alternatives, rubberstamps or independents.
But irrespective of whether he comes out unscathed or not, there could be drama. Also will stumble out more skeletons from the cupboard as the Supreme Court panel will likely reveal the identity of players, now concealed in a sealed envelope submitted by the Mudgal committee, at some point this year.
Indian cricket’s New Year wish-list will include redemption and resurrection. Perhaps with some largesse, the World Cup or maybe an overseas Test rubber. Srinivasan’s resolution would be to return ever more resolutely. On both counts, defiance could be the running theme of the year.