If ever India needed to reinforce some faith onto their fans’ minds, it was done with a great degree of arrogance. I know some people who constantly sulk about the Ganguly episode, but the rapid strides that Indian cricket has taken after the phased ouster of the former skipper is absolutely commendable. Greg Chappell may be seen a villain in Kolkata but overall he has all but sealed his stature as the ‘Guru’ in the rest of the country. His record as Indian coach speaks volumes for the transformation this team has gone through since he took over in May 2005. India were among the bottom few of the ICC ODI Rankings when the Aussie took over and after some initial hiccups in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, he and the boys seemed to get their acts together. Since then, India have been unbeaten in four bilateral ODI series so far. Its a new page in Indian cricket that was waiting to be written since a long time. A page that has writings of ruthlessness, dominance and enthusiasm, words missing in the context of Indian cricket in the recent past.
There were two important things to come out of the series. Firstly, a large percentage of this squad have surely confirmed their way to the 2007 Caribbean World Cup and secondly, the seeds of youth sown in the Sri Lanka home series in October is finally reaping great rewards. Yuvraj Singh has peaked at the right time, nearly rounding off a season of glory, one in which he has played a larger role in India’s successes as an ODI team. MS Dhoni has gone through a 360 degrees turnaround since that hundred he got at Jaipur against the Lankans. He has gradually perfected the art of finishing (Chappell has earmarked him for the Micheal Bevan role). Raina seems to be maturing and plugging the hole that once eluded India of many games, the crucial no. 5/6 spot, which inevitably went to VVS Laxman. His contributions as a fielder have also been worth noting. The only area of concern that Greg and Rahul will look to sort out by the earliest would be Sehwag and Kaif. Both of them should ideally be rested and brought back for the West Indies tour. Having said that, the 7th ODI win highlighted that this team has moved beyond individuals. I would tend to agree with Deano, who claimed that “Even Australia would find it tough to beat India at home”.
The area of real improvement has been the fast-bowling unit. Still at its growing stages, the identification of potential strike bowlers was essential as the tried and tested like the Nehras and the Zaheers would usually get injured and inexplicably, the bench strength would be close to null. A conscious move was taken by Chappell to blood young pacemen into the team and the returns are here to see. Sreesanth’s bucketful of wickets at Indore exemplifies the very fact that opportunities as much as hard work are the key to success. Munaf Patel has been bowling exceedingly well in the Tests along with Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan but the larger picture suggests that the team management is looking ahead to breed a cocoon of fast bowlers. Irfan’s growth as a batsman has surely helped his make-up as a bowler. Having been through a consistent success pattern as a batsman, he now thinks like one and his bowling seems to go through periods of troughs and crests, but contributes largely to the team’s success. The spinners have come off according to expectations as well. Harbhajan fought through a rough patch and pulled it off with a fiver at Delhi, while Powar may soon prove to be a handy utility player India has always been searching for. Yes, after four series at home and in Pakistan, one might quite conclude that the inexperienced bowling has exceeded certain expectations, but seems to be heading in the right direction as far as the larger future of India is concerned.
For now its a big leap forward as far as Indian cricket is concerned. India are now ranked #3 in the ICC ODI Championships, at a sniffing distance behind South Africa. India is certainly on a roll, as they were back in 2002. It will be imperative for the Indians to leave complacency at their backyards and move forward with a larger goal in mind. It surely is great to see success finally making their way to Indian shores, after a quiet and inconsistent 2004-05. One surely hopes that these smaller tournaments (in importance) can be the perfect entourage to attain the biggest one !