Wednesday, January 17News That Matters

Why will the next 18 months test Indian cricket?

What’s the back-story?

It has been a season of ecstasy for Indian cricket while 2017 ebbs away into the sands of time. Largely in their backyard, Virat Kohli’s men have pummelled opposition and retained an aura of invincibility. During the few trips overseas, they finished runner-up in the ICC Champions Trophy in England and the jaunt across the Palk Strait into Sri Lanka yielded a garland of victories.

Across formats, India won 37 of 53 contests, a mind-boggling performance as New Zealand, England, Australia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh were forced to eat humble pie. India dominated on home soil and was hardly tested while breezing through immigration counters in foreign airports. It helped that in the immediate past, Kohli’s marauding bunch dropped anchor in the West Indies and in Sri Lanka, both cricketing units resting on past laurels and wilting with present defeats.

What lies in store?

Ever keen to present a sunny picture, the coach-captain combine of Ravi Shastri and Kohli have hummed a ‘we-believe-we-can-win’ chorus. A few months back under warm Colombo skies, Shastri said: “This team can do things which Indian teams of the past haven’t done.”

Later, on the same tour, Kohli mentioned that his troops look at every match as an opportunity to push for victory and would rather not term games as ‘home’ and ‘away’. The clichéd term ‘momentum’ is with Kohli’s men but the next year and a half may hold an unforgiving mirror to the true worth of the Indian cricket team, be it in Test whites or in the blue shade for limited overs’ jousts. New Year’s Day and the subsequent 18 months will usher in the challenging tours of South Africa (January-February), England (July-September) and Australia (November-December).

The 12 Tests and the surfeit of ODIs and Twenty20s will test the squad’s mettle and the acme would be the ICC World Cup in England from May 30 to July 14 in 2019. The global event often determines teams’ life-spans as the results influence captains’ tenures and the longevity or retirement of veteran players. And it might well prove to be M.S. Dhoni’s swansong.

What are the challenges?

Be it South Africa, England or Australia, India cannot bank on the home-template of posting an avalanche of runs and then allowing spinners to aggravate the initial breaches caused in the opposition ranks by seamers.

There will be a premium on runs and it is the fast bowlers who have to inflict all the damage while the spinners do a holding job. In Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, India possess the requisite batsmen with skill and heart.

Add Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan to this mix when it comes to dealing with ODIs and Twenty20s and you have an explosive combine.

There is a resolute wicket-keeper batsman in Wriddhiman Saha and the quartet of Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar can pose tough questions to rival willow-wielders. All-rounder Hardik Pandya will lend balance and spinners R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have pedigree. Yet, despite all the right ingredients in place, the quest to maintain a winning streak in tougher terrain abroad could prove to be an arduous task.

Is India equipped?

The medley of world-beaters in the opposition flanks, A.B. de Villiers and Dale Steyn, Joe Root and James Anderson, Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc, to name a few, and all of them playing in their respective countries, could derail India’s best-laid plans. It would be prudent to recall that after their glorious 2011 World Cup triumph, Dhoni’s men lost 0-4, 0-4 to England and Australia respectively in Tests. Those tours plunged a knife into Indian cricket’s heart and revived that derisive chant — ‘tigers at home, lambs abroad.’ Kohli and company get another chance at redemption when it comes to salvaging India’s overseas credentials. If they can flip the odds and walk towards the victor’s podium, greatness will be their second-skin.

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