So where does Indian cricket go from here? The cynic will say it has no place to go but up after the recent reverses. At least there are no Test matches till July in England. For some time the focus will be on limited over cricket with first the Asia Cup and then the World T-20 holding one’s attention.
For all the recent setbacks in South Africa and New Zealand, the Indian team has been performing slightly better in the shorter versions of the game and they will also be pleased that both these tournaments are being held in Bangladesh where conditions are not very different from those prevalent at home.
The ICC rankings still have India at No 2 in all three formats. In fact, put together, the Indians have the best overall standing slightly ahead of South Africa who while being on top of the heap in Tests are No 3 in both ODIs and T-20.
However much one would like to debate whether India is deserving of such a high standing, given the results of late, it must be said that the ICC rankings are based on results at home and away and over a period and there is a certain methodical approach and so they just cannot be shrugged off.
What the Indians ought to do is to put the past behind them and try and make a fresh start and the Asia Cup might just be the perfect platform. For starters, the Indians have almost always done well in tournaments or a tri series in Bangladesh. And the competition is such as to test the team and give them just the kind of toughness it would need to tackle the bigger assignments during what is an extended cricket season.
The participating teams other than India are Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. The temptation will be there to shrug off the challenge posted by the Afghanistan but the cricketing world has already seen what they can achieve. They have already qualified for the 2015 World Cup and just the other day their Under-19 team stunned Australia in the Under-19 World Cup in Abu Dhabi.
Little need be said about the competition from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and India will have to play at their best if they are to regain the trophy they last won in Sri Lanka in 2010. They have a few things going for them as I said and in a way MS Dhoni having to miss the tournament because of injury could well be a blessing in disguise.
For one thing the overworked skipper can do with some rest and recuperation and perhaps come back with his batteries charged for the T-20 World Cup in March. Secondly, it gives Virat Kohli another chance to prove that he is the natural successor to Dhoni.
National captaincy will not be a new experience for Kohli for he has already led India in eight ODIs in the absence of Dhoni (either injured or rested). Interestingly enough India have won seven of these games in the West Indies and Zimbabwe but leading in the Asia Cup will be his most important assignment as captain yet.
Coming to individuals, I guess the main focus will be on Cheteswar Pujara. Ever since the Indian team started floundering in South Africa, there has been a clamour for including him in the ODI side. Pujara, as we all know, is in the Rahul Dravid mould as a batsman and despite the latter’s impressive record in limited over cricket, his overall image will be first of all as a classy and reliable Test batsman.
Pujara has already established himself as the side’s No 3 in Tests but this tournament will give him the opportunity to cement his spot in ODIs too. So far he has played just two ODIs in Zimbabwe last year but scores of 0 and 13 meant that he was out of the team as soon as he had made it.
The batting failures in South Africa and New Zealand have brought him back into the reckoning and one just cannot see Pujara spurn this second chance. He is too good a batsman and one can already see him play the anchor and rotate the strike to play an important role in the team’s fortunes.
One supposes the bowling will be more keenly watched than the batting given the fact that the bowlers have frequently let India down. Will India again field both Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin in the playing eleven? Will Amit Mishra get a break or will he just warm the benches?
Will enough opportunities be given to Stuart Binny, the kind of utility man ideal for limited over cricket? Will the young pacemen rise to the occasion? These are the questions that will be uppermost in the kinds of Indian cricket followers for it can be taken for granted that the batting will hold its own in subcontinental conditions.