When the current series in South Africa winds down, all the attention will be focused on the upcoming World Cup and subsequently on the IPL. It is, however, interesting to note that, as per Future Tours Program posted on Cricinfo, India will be playing 4 tests in the West Indies in June/July, 4 tests in England in July/September, host the Windies for three tests in November/December and end the year in Australia in a 4 test series. That is 15 tests in a span of approximately 6 months. Three of these series are away and the games in England and Australia are certainly worth looking forward to. Does India have a strategy to tackle these series? Let’s examine some of the concerns.
The uncertainty around Gary Kirsten’s continuation as the coach seems to be a major concern. The Indians have felt that Kirsten’s presence has been the best thing that has happened to Indian cricket in a long time. Kirsten has indicated that, due to family reasons, he would like to relinquish his job. Senior Indian players have requested that he atleast stay on as a coach for tests. Kirsten has given any indications of changing his plans. The Indians would have to go back to the drawing board in determining suitable candidates for what is turning out to be a crucial position for Indian cricket.
The most important question on everyone’s mind is the future of the Fabulous three. Though M.S. Dhoni and co. have attributed a major portion of the success in tests to the bowling department and rightly so, it is the fab three along with Sehwag who have provided the comfort base for the bowlers to perform well. The three masters will do great service to the nation if they can assist in grooming their replacements sooner than later. India should not end in a situation that Australia currently is in. I would expect Rahul Dravid to possibly till the end of the England series and finish his career where he started. VVS Laxman and Tendulkar could go on to Australia and consider their futures subsequently. For them to do so, they have to remain fit and choose their games intelligently. It would probably be a good idea for them to alternatively skip the West Indies series (home and away). Their roles should become clearer in the next few months.
India has a lot to think about regarding replacements for the fab three. Pujara seems to be more or less certain to stay the course. A good home series should help his cause immensely. Pujara should possibly consider taking on the No:3 position. India will have to give S. Badrinath another chance to prove his mettle. He has had a stunning domestic season and has atleast another 4-5 years of cricket left. He looks fit and is hungry for runs. Yuvraj Singh may just sense an opening with Suresh Raina’s terrible outings in South Africa. I am not convinced that it would be a good move. However, India would do well with a left hander in the middle order much like the role that Saurav Ganguly played. The opening slot seems reasonably stable for atleast another couple of years with Sehwag and Gambhir. Vijay and Abhinav Mukund might well be the back up choices. Interesting to note that the two Delhi openers may be followed by the two openers from Tamilnadu.
India’s bowling department continues to be a revolving door. Barring a fit Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, all slots are available for grabs. Not much to write home about on that front as yet.
It will be interesting to see how India handles its busiest year in a while especially when it comes to test cricket. It will be a repeat of the 2007/2008 and 2008 series in Australia and England respectively.