Team India took a few strong steps on its road to recovery after her exit from the World Cup 2007 Tournament left her many fans in a state shock and disbelief.
India first beat Ireland and then, South Africa. The 2-1 win over South Africa must give the team hope, resolve and confidence. The matches were played in Ireland in conditions that would have probably suited South Africa’s game more than it did, India’s. Moreover, India were without some of their key players for all three games. And let’s not forget that South Africa is currently the #2 ranked ODI team in the world — to India’s sixth.
But the road to recovery is long and it is arduous. Sterner tests await — first against Pakistan and then against England.
Moreover, I believe that this tour has not answered as many questions as it ought to have.
In the main, the one un-answered issue is around team-balance. There seems to me to be some confusion on whether or not the team goes in with 4-bowlers or 5-bowlers. At the risk of sounding like a boring parrot, I think that this is where the lack of an all-rounder option hurts the team. If only Irfan Pathan was in better form/fitness. If only Dinesh Mongia was more consistent (or had someone in the team-think-tank whose trust he had). If only.
This dilly-dallying can hurt the team and its long-term chances badly.
It seems to me that the team has almost decided on Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar as its main two bowlers. The team will chose between R. P. Singh and Sree Sreesanth for the 3rd seamer. While this is fine, in theory, this reliance on Agarkar is somewhat frightening to me. One just can’t predict which of the Agarkars will turn up on match day! The sooner Team India makes up its mind on this, the better things will be, in my view! The back-up bowling strength looks strong — even considering Ishant Sharma’s not-too-bright start. With Ishant Sharma, Ranadeb Bose, Munaf Patel and Rakesh Patel waiting in the wings, one could suggest that there is reasonable bench strength. Moreover, in Piyush Chawla and Romesh Powar, India has two steady spin bowlers. They will be tested severely in the game against Pakistan though. One mad over to Afridi or Pietersen may be enough to wreck either of these two spinners! It will be good to see how they fare in that game. Neverthelsee, signs are there that the bowling is pulling things together. They need to bowl in the right areas and with far greater discipline. Hopefully the appointment of Venkatesh Prasad is helping here.
It seems to me that the team has reverted to the old-firm of Tendulkar-Ganguly at the top. While that is fine in theory, I’d need to see the middle-order play with more fire and grit than it had in the past when Tendulkar and Ganguly fell cheaply and early. The last match yielded some signs that, with Dravid coming in at #4 and with a more responsible Yuvraj and a dependable Karthik to follow, there are promising signs for the future. For this reliance, Yuvraj’s role is extremely vital. He has to be the clinical finisher that Michael Bevan was; the finisher that Mike Hussey is! But there are signs of the batting holding together. However, one swallow does not make a summer. Time will tell whether reverting to the Ganguly-Tendulkar old-firm is a good move. If Tendulkar and Ganguly open, it is in my view necessary for Dravid to come in at #4 to hold things together in the face of a mini-collapse. This then makes the role of the #3 quite crucial. And this is where, I think, the team needs to invest.
And this brings into question Gautam Gambhir’s role! I am not sure if his role has been either decided or clarified. He seems to me to be caught in a shall-I-attack or shall-I-defend frame mind. And this results in a rabbit-caught-in-headlights type situation. Not the best situation for anyone to be in.
Oh! How we yearn for a fit and strong Irfan Pathan at #3! The advantage of a person like Pathan at #3 is that, along with the 4 other bowlers (8, 9, 10 and 11) he will make the bowling complement. Moreover, he has the ability to hit out — if the start has been brisk — or buckle down with tight defense — in the event of a disaster start.
And mind you, we haven’t talked yet of a fit and fighting Virender Sehwag!
Sigh! If wishes were horses, pigs would fly!