Indian cricket has perhaps never had it so good. The team is ranked No 1 in the ICC ODI rankings, No 2 in the Test rankings and No 3 in the T-20 rankings. Overall this is the best record among all the countries. India’s last Test result was a 4-0 rout of Australia. India are the reigning Fifty50 World Cup champions and have recently won the Champions Trophy.
A few months ago, India regained the Under-19 World Cup and along the way the squad has registered several comparatively minor victories in bilateral contests. And now comes the latest feather in the cap with the India A team notching up a victory in the limited overs tri-series in South Africa. It constitutes a notable achievement for the other two teams in the fray were South Africa and Australia.
It is never easy to perform when the atmosphere is sullied but the players have done admirably in shrugging off the recent betting and spot fixing scandals associated with the IPL, the BCCI shenanigans and the controversy regarding MS Dhoni’s clash of interests and kept their focus firmly on events on the field.
This positive attitude and professional approach has led to one triumph after another. The seamier aspects off the field have been well chronicled but thankfully also well chronicled have been the eventful happenings on the field.
It doesn’t need a rocket scientist to analyse the recent run of successes. The team has been well led either by Dhoni or Virat Kohli, has a balanced and well settled look about it and the players have the skill, ability and experience to deliver either at home or abroad. The reserve strength is strong, the transition phase is almost complete and most of the cricketers are either the right age or at the peak of their powers.
The batting and bowling has the right blend of youth and experience and there is palpable improvement in the fielding and catching. Praise must be showered on the selectors too for the Sandeep Patil-led committee has adopted a youth oriented far sighted policy that is already yielding results.
So where does that leave the stars or in a couple of cases superstars who dominated Indian cricket for so long and are now suddenly forced to sit on the sidelines and find themselves largely forgotten? Just the other day there was an interesting news item about Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh returning to India after undergoing an elaborate, rigorous and specialist training stint in – of all places - France.
The two are keen on making a return to the national team and are obviously leaving no stone unturned in a bid to achieve their objective. I suppose the same is true of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Harbhajan Singh who, while not going through what Zaheer and Yuvraj did, must be doing more than their bit to keep themselves fit. Surely they too have not given up hopes of representing India again.
The quintet has rendered yeoman service to Indian cricket over many years. Sehwag has been a match winner at the top of the order, one of only four batsmen to have notched up two triple hundreds in Test cricket, and the only player to have twice been Wisden’s leading cricketer of the year.
Gambhir at his peak was averaging 57 in Tests and reached the No 1 spot in the ICC Test rankings. Zaheer Khan has been India’s pace spearhead for many years and is the most successful pace bowler after Kapil Dev. Harbhajan Singh has taken over 400 wickets in Tests – only ten others have crossed that figure – besides being a match winner many times over.
Yuvraj has not done justice to his talent in Tests but none can question his credentials in the limited overs game. For that matter the other four besides their impressive record in Tests have also excelled in the shorter versions of the game.
So can the quintet come back? As far as Sehwag and Gambhir are concerned, I suppose it will all depend on how Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan fare in South Africa a few months from now. But the other slots – the middle order, pace bowling and spin bowling – would seem to have a houseful board on them keeping in mind the personnel manning the positions at the moment and the bench strength.
Also, with the selectors seemingly firm on pursuing their youth policy, it is unlikely they will turn the clock back. They would prefer to look ahead should any changes be required particularly when there are so many talented youngsters around.
Among the five it could be most difficult for Harbhajan to make a comeback. With Ravichandran Ashwin firmly entrenched as the No 1 spin bowler, Ravindra Jadeja making himself indispensable as a utility man and with Pragyan Ojha and Amit Mishra among the reserves, it looks almost impossible for Harbhajan to be playing in India colours again.
Yuvraj could only come back if there is a major breakdown in the middle order while Zaheer at 35 faces an uphill task given his unimpressive record in the last few games. But then this is true of all the five players and the downslide that comes with age has been all too apparent.