Probably the only people who had a problem with the wash-out that was the seventh ODI would be the cricket fans living in Mumbai. That is the first thought that comes to mind when pondering about where yet another series leaves us. It is but reflective of the times in which cricket is played today.
In fact it could prove to be a major learning for the ICC when it comes to dealing with dead rubbers. A seven match ODI series does seem a bit too long but since the commercial deals make them viable, the onus should be on making each and every match important. Imagine a scenario where once the series has been decided, the remaining matches wouldn’t be played. Yes, the people who spend all the money would never allow that to happen. But again, if ever implemented, wouldn’t that make say England forget about partying after they have won the Ashes and give a darn about an ODI contest? We would indeed be spared, in such a case, from watching them get beaten 6-1. That was not good for their morale as a team, for the paying crowds or for the ODI format.
Moving on, in the same light then, did the India-Australia series help the health of the ODI format? Yes, somewhat it did. Australia, as a team, lit up the eyes of the beholder while the same can be said of the Indians but from an individualistic point of view. The best parts though were two fold, ticket-counter sales and the pitches. After the snore-fest that was the Champions League T20 (sorry Keiron Pollard), people in India went crazy again. Gone are the times when there are more people around than stands to hold them. For we live in the times of new stadia at Nagpur and Hyderabad along with the renovated ones at Delhi and Mohali, and it was a sense of immense pleasure that they all seemed full to the brim.
A lot of credit for that goes to the varying pitches laid out, for it has been one’s ardent belief for some time now that even the most mismatched opponents can battle it out on level pegging if the 22-yards that matter are well-balanced, and hence provide spectacular cricket. From the dustbowls of Vadodara and Guwahati to the firm track at Mohali to the batting paradises at Hyderabad and Nagpur to the Kotla-turned-Sharjah track, they tested all the bowlers and the batsmen. And in the end, the better team won.
There are two things about the Aussies that we need to bear in mind. One, they simply need a reason to whine, sometimes just for the sake of it and two, they are fantastic cricketers. One couldn’t understand what all the fuss regarding the schedule of the series was about. Yes, they have been on the road for close to five months now but then no one forced the Australian players to take part in the Champions League T20. Truth be told, it was for the lure of the huge prize money on offer. And thus, all their complaining that the fixture list was too tight, especially in the wake of all the injuries, smacked of hypocrisy in the light of examples set by Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers and Paul Collingwood who skipped the T20 tournament, placing more importance to representing their country.
And come to think of it, the injuries actually worked out very well for the visitors. A fifteen man squad became a twenty-man contingent by the end of the tour and if we add Brad Haddin, Callum Ferguson and Michael Clarke to the party, it becomes a talent pool of twenty three players. One from which you can expect the next three to four years of Aussie cricket will be well served, especially with all of them having a good experience of the conditions in the sub-continent and keeping an eye on 2011.
Considering that in recent times, the Australian team’s fortunes in Test and ODI cricket have been diametrically opposite, one is tempted to wonder if this talent pool is more adept at limited-overs cricket than over a period of five days. Not to mention this fact has been realized by the team management and so, while we see and wonder what has gone wrong with them in Tests against India last year, versus South Africa at home and then in the Ashes, they have quietly gone about winning ODI tournaments in a canter, still maintaining their numero uno status and quite capable of defending it in the near future.
Talking of status, India’s positioning as one of the world’s three sides battling it out for the number one spot begs to be debated long and hard. At the moment, it seems to be a half baked challenge. What else would you call a team with no thoughtful batsmen in the middle order, fast bowlers who seem to take turns having an off day, a leading spinner who is content controlling economy rates (and even at that he isn’t doing a great job) rather than take wickets and of course, there is the slack fielding. Now on the one hand there could be an argument as to the fielding and bowling coaches had been fired, but then poor bowling and fielding have been India’s bane for long.
There was hope that playing back home would help team India find answers to questions asked in the T20 World Cup and the Champions Trophy, but a 4-2 loss means there are more riddles to solve for the selection committee. Who, if any one cares to remember said, that this is the team of the future. Here’s a sample list of what they need to tend to: why wasn’t Rahul Dravid included in the side when there is so much uncertainty in the middle order? Is there a decent number seven player available in Indian domestic cricket at all? Is Harbhajan Singh ever going to look dangerous again? Will a bowling coach be found who will teach the attack the difference there is bowling in T20, ODI and Test cricket? Will the new fielding coach, when selected, make an impact and a long term one? Will Suresh Raina learn how to play short pitched bowling? Will Virender Sehwag score more than forty runs in an ODI innings again? Will some one please ask MS Dhoni to atleast think about batting higher? Will Yuvraj Singh realize he is the fulcrum of Indian batting now? And will some one ever support Sachin Tendulkar the next time he plays a match winning knock?
The problem again is too much cricket. For, with Sri Lanka knocking on the doors, if answers aren’t found quickly enough, very soon the Men in Blue will be fourth in world cricket’s pecking order.
(The columnist is a sports writer and Mobile ESPN cricket commentator based in New Delhi, India.)