Change in Guard Promises Exciting Campaign for India
Never before had an Indian test cricket fan had his eye pop out so much in anticipation looking at the impending set of fixtures. So, when the BCCI announced that India will take on West Indies, New Zealand, England, and Bangladesh across 17 tests during the 2016-17 season, there was absolute disbelief. So many hours of red ball cricket when all we seem to do these days is follow the white ball fly past the cheerleaders onto the crowd? Something surely is not right. The BCCI, in a conscious effort to bring regularity to India’s home season, have announced the opposition and venues well in advance. If they can sort out the stadium ticketing mayhem that usually accompanies every match played in India, it will be a very welcome change indeed.
India also have a new head coach at the helm. Of course, there was drama in the selection process. There always is when characters such as Sourav Ganguly and Ravi Shastri are involved. Ravi Shastri, who has had a good couple of years at the helm, had all the right to be disappointed at missing out. In a much publicized spat with Sourav Ganguly, Shastri came out as the sore loser. He could have taken on the other members in the panel, Laxman and Tendulkar, and gotten away with it. Not Sourav Ganguly. Ganguly has always been feisty and now that he heads the CAB, he was never going to let Shastri get away with it.
It also shows how the new BCCI hierarchy is keen to flush out the old guard. Ravi Shastri and Sunil Gavaskar, very rightly, were seen as BCCI mouthpieces. Gavaskar’s contract is unlikely to be renewed and Shastri is also on his way out. The panel comprising Laxman, Tendulkar, Ganguly along with Dravid, the man in charge of India A team, would have been left with little choice as soon as Anil Kumble applied for the job. Kumble had a rather short stint as Indian captain, but it was a memorable one as he guided India through that infamous 2007-2008 tour to Australia. Not one to mince words, a bundle of aggression on the field, but never inappropriate, Kumble could just be the man that could be the ideal foil to Virat Kohli. The two have a history. Kumble acted as the mentor for the ever angry young man during his RCB days and helped channel his aggression. Fair to say he did a good job. Just look at Kohli’s numbers.
India’s batting looks settled. In Murali Vijay, they have one of the best test batsman in the world over the last two years. You never know what Shikhar Dhawan has up his sleeve. But with KL Rahul breathing down his neck, Dhawan would do well not to assume that he would be given the long rope again. Pujara made a magnificent come-back to the side in Sri Lanka and he is sure to walk in at 3. Kohli at 4 will be keen to improve his test numbers and get that average close to 50. Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma, expected to be a handful in home conditions, complete India’s top order. There will be very high competition for the spots and that’s always a good thing.
The bowling should and will be spin heavy. It will be a surprise if Ashwin and Jadeja do not end up with at least a 100 more victims at the end of this campaign. Amit Mishra will feature in such a long campaign and his guily leg spin rounds off India’s attack. What Shastri and Kohli have done well in the last two years is to build a battery of genuine fast bowlers including Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The bowlers have to be rotated well keeping in mind the draining conditions in India. They might not have a big say, but it’s nevertheless important that they stay on top of their game. With Kumble at the helm, it would be safe to assume that India will do away with the experimental 3 pacer strategy that we came to see under Shastri. You have an extra spot. Play an extra batsman or another spinner.
The most disappointing aspect of India’s last home season was how the BCCI churned out dust bowls that spun viciously from day 1. Not many matches made it to day 4. Most teams around the world haven’t figured out how to play on a typical Indian track that starts spinning on day 4. There is no reason why India cannot produce pitches like those this season. The fans would rather India lose a closely contested game on day 5 than a completely one sided game that doesn’t make it to day 4. It remains to be seen what kind of pitches Kumble and Kohli will ‘request’ the BCCI to prepare.
India are number 2 in the ICC rankings. They can be number 1 at the end of this campaign. And they can stay there for a while.