Team India has to guard against being smug

Last Updated: Mon, Oct 29, 2012 10:30 hrs

Well, the fun and games are over and it is time for serious business: I refer to the overdose of T20 matches which took much of the time of the average cricket fan for an extended period. 

Now, with the conclusion of the Champions League, it is time to look ahead to what should be two splendid contests in November - South Africa in Australia and England in India. For a change, I think even the youngest of the game's followers who have taken to Twenty20 in a big way should be a bit satiated, and will in fact look eagerly to cricket's traditional format providing a welcome change of pace. 

Test cricket may be sluggish in entertainment value but the manner in which the suspense steadily unfolds, coupled with the inevitable twists and turns, still marks it out as something special. And when the contests are played out by the four top teams in world cricket it can leave the cricket follower asking for more.
For us in India, the four-match series against England will be followed with more than usual interest. For one thing, it is already being billed as a 'revenge' series coming after the 0-4 thrashing the Indian squad received in England last year. Secondly, with the Indian team in a transitional phase, there is considerable speculation over its composition. 

Will there be a couple of more retirements before the long season ends? Will young talent get the big break? Will the established stars redeem their reputation which has suffered a serious dent during the double debacle in England and Australia?    
Fortunately, there are a few things going for India and the first is a negative aspect. England last won a Test series in this country in 1984-85. India have almost always got the better of England at home and this should encourage Dhoni and his men to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors. 

Why, even as recent as last year when England came over for a five-match ODI series almost immediately after outplaying India in all formats at home India made a clean sweep of the contest. England are no doubt aware of their arduous task that awaits them and as Matt Prior has said in a recent interview winning a Test series in India equates to a bigger task than beating Australia away. 

The latter objective was achieved in 2010-11 which was the first England triumph 'Down Under' for 24 years but that is no guarantee that England can repeat the feat here. Indeed Prior's description of a win in India constituting ''the final frontier'' has put additional pressure on the visitors. 

India on the other hand will face no pressure knowing that history and the record books are in their favour. They will only have to guard against being smug.
That is not to say that all is hunky dory with the home team. There are problems that have to be solved. But somehow at home the problems seem to solve themselves. 

How else can one explain the Indian team in the midst of their worst run abroad in half a century still having the ammunition to get the better of West Indies and New Zealand at home?  Despite the fact that Indian teams have in recent years won Tests abroad on a fairly regular basis it pales before the record at home which is awesome. That the last visiting side to win a series here were the Aussies in 2004 bears enough testimony to this fact.
Also as the ODIs, T20 matches and the 'A' tours have shown there is talent aplenty in Indian cricket. The reserve strength which runs right down the order is the most encouraging aspect of Indian cricket. For starters while there are question marks over the lack of form shown by Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag there is every reason to believe that they will come off like they did against West Indies and New Zealand. 

Should they continue to fail Murali Vijay, Shikar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane are waiting in the wings. It is true that Vijay has not made the most of his opportunities at the Test level but this season he has been among the runs in a big way and the confidence should stand him in good stead. Much the same can be said for Dhawan. As for Rahane it surely is only a matter of time before he earns a Test cap.
In the middle-order given the fact that Cheteswar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli are certainties there are any number of claimants should one of them be injured or woefully out of form. These include Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Manoj Tiwari. 

The scenario is encouraging too as far as the bowlers are concerned. Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma should be the first choices as pace bowlers but there is enough back-up in Irfan Pathan, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and Ashok Dinda. When it comes to spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha on their home record are a match winning duo. 

Again the reserve bench is heartening - Amit Mishra, Piyush Chawla, Rahul Sharma and the old warhorse Harbhajan Singh. I am not even considering the number of fringe players who also could don the Test cap ere long.
Yes, I am aware that the main problems confront the Indian cricketers abroad. But that is in the future. For starters, let us get back to winning ways against teams ranked higher than us - Australia follow England in touring this country - and in the long run the bigger issues might solve themselves. 

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