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By Suresh Menon
By thrashing England in the one-day series, the boys in the middle have once again saved the bacon of the suits in the boardrooms. Large swathes of empty seats in the stadiums indicated the series was not top priority among the fans who are probably as tired of the continuous rounds of games as the players themselves. India were in a no-win situation. Had they lost, questions would have been asked of the cricket board, the IPL, the selectors, the corporate, the usual suspects.
Now, the BCCI looks wise for its refusal to panic after the disastrous tour of England and order all manner of inquests. The selectors have unearthed players who appear ready for the one-day format at least, where there is no pressure to take 20 wickets every match in order to win.
Yet some of the euphoria must be tempered by the realisation that neither looking after a player nor planning for the future is among the Board’s strengths. The fast bowlers Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron – capable of bowling in the 140s – bring with them hope. Their future, and India’s, will depend on how well they are handled by the selectors. The example of Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Sreeshanth and a host of others who are in and out of the injury ward is sobering. It is not that India lack talent, it’s just that we don’t know what to do with it.
That India beat England so convincingly with only four of their World Cup heroes in action merely confirms that at home they are a difficult side to beat.
India’s immediate future will depend on how well they keep the balance between too much cricket and too little cricket. The numbers are obviously different for each player, and are being monitored by coach Duncan Fletcher and his team. But their track record so far – players seem to be able to pull wool over their eyes with impunity – hasn’t been very encouraging.
Fast bowlers in particular must be handled with great care. Fletcher must be given carte blanche to decide when and where they play so the balance between international cricket and domestic, particularly the IPL is maintained. Two genuine quicks in the same generation is not a luxury that Indian cricket has had since Independence. Add Ishant Sharma to that list, and there is much to look forward to. One or two swallows do not make a summer, of course, and the pressure on the newcomers to keep playing everywhere will be enormous. That is where Fletcher can make the difference.
In the past year or so the player who has inspired the most has been Virat Kohli. There is a maturity to this 22-year-old, and a self-confidence that bodes well for Indian cricket which is on the verge of bidding goodbye to a great middle order. An enlightened BCCI might ask Delhi to make him captain of their Ranji team, and suggest to the Royal Challengers Bangalore that he be made captain of the IPL team too. He has the look of a future captain, and once that is accepted, then it makes sense to start his education early.
This is how international players should be treated; with the national body’s vision (or the national coach’s) being followed across the board, even in the IPL, which is after all a domestic tournament.
In sport, context is all. Everything is a stepping stone to something else. And that is another balance that is crucial to success. The balance between the immediate future (tour of Australia) and a long-term plan (the 2015 World Cup). Dhoni and his men have done well, but this is only the beginning.