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There is a similarity between domestic cricket in India and international cricket in West Indies nowadays – barring the odd television crew, a bunch of journalists, ten other jolly men and two dogs, no one else is ever present to watch the proceedings. Only the fifth ODI showed sizeable crowd numbers and that can be attributed to the presence of Chris Gayle – in party mode – in the stands of his home ground. For the 2007 World Cup new stadiums were built to accommodate more fans into the mix; just that ever since cricket in the Caribbean has failed to invite any onto itself.
Perhaps it is the same with television audiences, late night telecasts to the sub-continent is an avid excuse for fans to curl up and sleep. But beyond this advertising nightmare that awaits a contest in the Windies is the need to look at how ICC pairs up the two teams fighting for prowess. The Pakistan tour preceding this one was a stark reminder of how two teams on equal pegging can liven up the expectations of those watching. Even in low scoring Test matches, the two teams retained enough interest in cricket fans worldwide, who were tuning in just to know which side blows itself up first on turning tracks.
That Pakistan only exerted themselves in the last game of the tour and that India chose to send its A-team for achieving pretty much the same result is a direct pointer to the ICC. There is an urgent need to take a re-look at the international calendar and try to calm down its ever bulging seams. How they do it is a debate in itself and one for another day, but not one to be ignored. If senior players from a top cricketing nation cannot be bothered to make the trip, why would the fans hassle some interest? After all they do have plentiful other cricket to watch all year around!
A direct consequence of this overdose is that Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina are on a collision course, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for India on the whole. The former has always been seen as a leader since his younger days, with an Under-19 World Cup victory to boot, and is one of the few youngsters in this country who have negotiated the money-fame curve with relative comfort. He is gaining laurels every time he goes out to bat and his rise in the IPL with Bangalore Royal Challengers is but a marker of things to come in the future. Any time the seniors opt to miss another tourney Kohli presents a viable option to lead the side, in the guise of one playing in West Indies currently.
However this is where the latter steps into the picture. Raina’s career has followed a perfect sinusoidal pattern, the likes of which most youngsters looking to make their mark tend to adhere to. But the baptism is now probably nearing an end with a successful World Cup role and hyper IPL performances, not to mention smallish captaincy stints. If everything works out without a hiccup, then Indian cricket is looking at two future leaders who are being groomed presently. Things can only go wrong if Raina fails to adopt the work ethic that Kohli seems to have assimilated into his cricket. The current Caribbean sojourn is but an indicator of where the Delhi lad could steal a march in this race to be India captain one day. Luckily enough, by design or coincidence, Raina favourably courts the higher corridors of power and chances don’t seem to be drying up in the near future.
Another such race could brew up in due course of time and that is for the position of the number one spinner in the eleven, especially considering India play in England and in Australia this calendar year. For the moment, Harbhajan Singh seems to have occupied it rather comfortably. But his performances have been numbing to say the least. No, one isn’t marking up to the IPL statistics wherein his wickets tally was swelled by a five-wicket haul in comparison to R Ashwin’s more spread out consistency. In fact this isn’t about Ashwin and his rise alone, for Amit Mishra has been denied his due for long now. Piyush Chawla was shown to be a pretender by his World Cup misery and on any given day, Mishra thinks quicker on his feet. Pragyan Ojha adds variety to the spin fare though his steps aren’t big just yet.
Truth be told, it is in their collective beckoning that lays the danger to the Turbanator. Zaheer Khan picked almost twice his number of wickets in the World Cup – in the sub-continent where his ilk are expected to struggle – and that was ample proof of Bhajji’s downward spiral. He chipped in at all times with important wickets but that is not enough from your lead bowler, particularly when the spearhead will be stretching out in search of optimal support. One isn’t calling for the young spin hopes to be elevated above him just yet, for there is enough about Bhajji still that suggests he could take over the mantle of Anil Kumble. If Zaheer gets injured untimely, it will lay further pressure on him to deliver bountiful wickets and the current lead spinner of this team does give a mixed feeling.
Unless that disappears for good in the swift span of next eight months, India pretty much risk losing their number one Test ranking.
(Chetan Narula is a sportswriter based in New Delhi, India. His Twitter feed is here.)