It is sometimes frustrating to live in mediocrity and hope that one day you will find the right balance and emerge stronger. MS Dhoni has lived that cricketing life for about three years now. Nothing went right in test cricket for him after the famous 2011 World Cup win and he was staring at an ageing team full of superstars, who were well past their sell by date. But, fate always has a way of accommodating the things at the opportune time.
Looking at Indian batting order today, there is a general feeling that the much anticipated young brigade has well and truly arrived. The much dreaded transition phase of the batting order in Indian cricket, Dear Gentlemen, has finally bid adieu.
It must not be misunderstood that all is well for the Indian team in all the formats. They still haven’t won a single test outside the sub-continent since 2011 and their previous two ODI tours have been nothing but disastrous. While defeats can be attributed to a lot of factors, wins occur only where the hopes exist.
At the time of writing this article, India has lost the first test and drew the second game that should have been with days to spare, against a lower ranked New Zealand team. India still has not won a single match (both Test and One Day) in 2014 and have no wins overseas in Test matches since 2011. Signs of trouble, you might say.
But, on the contrary there is something heart-warming about the way the Indian test team, especially the batting has performed.
When India was going through their worst phase in test cricket in recent times, namely the ill-fated tours to England and Australia, it was almost inevitable for the normal cricket fan to be nervous and pessimistic. They had the best batting line-ups of the world then, but it all got crumpled in spectacular fashion. You can only run an experienced machine so long as it functions well. In all those confidence shattering losses, most of them being innings defeats and India was, to state the obvious, bullied, beaten and severely battered.
Since that torrid time, things have not improved much in Test arena outside the subcontinent, but the team’s conduct and performance has renewed new hope among the Indian supporters. Yes, India lost the South Africa tests 1-0, but at the end of the first test, they had given the top ranked test team a run for their money and almost won it, if not for the sheer brilliance of the opposition batsmen. While South Africa managed to crush India in the next test and neatly wrap up the series, the way the inexperienced Indian batting order performed, made the world stand up and take notice.
Their marquee player, Virat Kohli, the best batting talent they currently have, made a century right in the first innings of a test, on Day One, against a top notched bowling attack. If that was not an indicator of things to come, their Mr.Dependable, Cheteshwar Pujara, notched up a ton in the second innings, as if to say “I’m here too!”.
Rewind to a week before the first test and the cricketing world was going gaga about how the South African safari would be too scary for the Indian batsmen and the opposition bowlers warning them that “it is not Mumbai, where they can score freely”. Ironically many experts were completely taken aback by the response of this young brigade.
Barring Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, the other batsmen in the top six had recorded at least one fifty in either of the two tests. While that is not a great statistic to boast of, it is not bad either, considering the fact that none of them had any prior experience on South African pitches, let alone test matches there. Though questions were raised over Shikhar Dhawan’s technique and style of play at the end of the tour, he has answered them in style with a century in New Zealand and by becoming the only fourth Indian opener to have a fourth innings century.
To be brutally frank, fans, including the author were flabbergasted with the response of the Indian batting unit against a dreaded bowling attack in their own backyard. With the desire to perform and outdo the critics, the rather “young and fearless” batting unit, as they described themselves recently, have enhanced their reputation at least by a grain, if not by an inch. When the world expects you to be rolled over in under three days in a test match, the best way to respond is by taking the match to the fifth day and give the top ranked opposition a scare.
The defeat and draw in New Zealand can be attributed to lacklustre captaincy in crucial phases of the game and some uninspiring bowling from the bowling department. The batting again, considering that none of these batsmen had ever played there before, was not really bad.
While it is indeed true that none of those matches were won, they were not pathetically played either, at least in terms of batting performances. The draw at Centurion will be remembered for years to come, as a symbol of hope for fans that their batsmen can indeed stand up and perform. If at all Dhoni had shown an aggressive approach and some imagination, the test results in New Zealand might have turned out to be different.
Balance is the key to any successful team and it has stayed the cricketing norm for decades. Seemingly, India have serendipitously discovered a settled batting order, at least for now. In Shikhar Dhawan they have the so called X-factor at the top, the aggressive opener who can also mend his ways to suit the situation. In Murali Vijay, they have the doggedness and solidity that one needs at the top in case of worst case scenarios. Pujara has already taken the cricketing world by storm with his feats and his technique and temperament are grudgingly admired by the cricket pundits.
In Kohli, there is the powerhouse of energy and talent who will enthral the ticket buying public with breath-taking strokes and the “can-do-it-all” attitude. With already a record 5000 runs in ODI cricket, freakish averages and an ever increasing century tally, he is on his way to the zenith.
While Rohit Sharma, in all certainly, is a bit of a hit or miss these days, his talent has never been in doubt. Ajinkya Rahane has been one of the highest domestic run scorers for a long time now. But till recently, warmed the benches for lack of openings in the batting order. He deserves a special mention as his ability to reinvent himself from a long format player to a slam bang T20 cricketer and ever come back stronger has been one of the best stories in recent times. It is only fair that he got to his maiden century in the second test at New Zealand.
While Dhoni and subsequently Jadeja/Ashwin make up the rest of the recognized batting, it is on the above mentioned players that the burden of carrying the legacy of Indian batting rests.
India’s bowling department still remains grossly inadequate in both incision and depth and the hopes of leading from the front will rest on the batsmen. The problem with India’s ever disappointing bowling unit warrants a longer discussion.
However, the new crop of batsmen have at their disposal: rare talent, hunger and most of all, ample opportunity. While the execution solely rests in their hands, with their current deeds, these young batsmen have raised the hopes of the average Indian cricket fan.
Gone are the days when people used to switch off their TV sets when a star batsmen was out. Today, when one young Indian batsmen falls, watch out for the other one. The young brigade, with its resoluteness and vigour, is here to stay. To quote Vivekananda:
“The history of the world is the history of a few men who had faith in themselves.”
If optimistic in approach, there are exciting times ahead.
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