If the mood is one of anger, frustration and cynicism can the average Indian cricket fan be blamed? When the Indian team suffers its first home series defeat for eight years, when an English team accomplishes a feat which no squad from that country has achieved for 28 years it is inevitable that questions should be asked.
Will there be a shake up? Will MS Dhoni be replaced as captain? Is it time for Sachin Tendulkar to ride off into the sunset? What about Duncan Fletcher? Yes, there are questions but no easy answers.
The immediate lesson from the Test series against England is that India will probably have to endure some more setbacks. The team is going through a transitional phase and the rebuilding will take time so we better be prepared for some more losses in the immediate future – yes, maybe even at home for so long considered to be our stronghold.
The plain fact is that the Indian team is an uncomfortable mix of ageing stars past their best and newcomers who are still groping their way in international cricket. The just concluded contest exposed the weak links and getting the squad back in shape again to pose a serious challenge to South Africa, Australia and England is going to prove a herculean task.
Yes, along the way we will probably get the better of West Indies, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and retain the No 5 spot in the ICC rankings but climbing back into the first three – let us forget about the No 1 spot which we occupied very briefly – is going to be Mission Impossible.
Such hopes were raised before the series against England for it was thought that the bench strength was pretty strong. Even as the superstars were in the evening of their careers much was made about the fringe players being good enough to breach the gap and then be adequate successors once the seniors called it a day. It is now clear that the reserve strength is less than admirable and that is the most discouraging outlook for Indian cricket.
Much for example was made of Yuvraj Singh’s comeback. He was the one who was going to finally occupy the No 6 slot for good. He didn’t last the series. Ravindra Jadeja on the strength of his tremendous record around the domestic circuit was the next to be tried out. He looked out of sorts.
Even Virat Kohli, considered to be the leader of the GenNext of Indian batting, did not exactly live up to this exalted status, his gallant century under pressure at Nagpur notwithstanding. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, the most successful Indian opening pair after Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan, did not perform in keeping with their reputation.
Unfortunately there are no ready replacements for them at the top of the order so India will have to soldier along with the Delhi duo. Sachin Tendulkar? What can one say except that it is time he called it a day though it is difficult to see him retiring before the series against Australia early next year.
What about Dhoni? He was under the scanner throughout the series because of his batting and captaincy. The loss of the series coming on top of the successive setbacks in England and Australia further dented his image. But with a half century and 99 he showed that he can still contribute with the bat while his work behind the stumps is commendable.
If he is to replaced, the short term solutions would be Gambhir or Sehwag while the long term solution could be Kohli. The first two are not exactly guaranteed of a place in the side while Kohli’s image has frequently taken a beating thanks to his unacceptable behavior, the latest example being his exchanging words quite needlessly with Jonathan Trott at Nagpur.
Aggression is one thing but a short fuse quite another and it is doubtful whether he is mature enough as a leader to take over the captaincy of the Indian team which among other qualities requires tact and diplomacy. Under the circumstances it will be better to continue with Dhoni and hope that he sheds defensive tactics and returns to his intuitive captaincy against Australia.
The bowling if anything presents bigger problems. Zaheer Khan has surely played his last Test. He did remarkably well as a pace spearhead for so long but age has caught up with him besides fitness problems. Harbhajan Singh could well join Mohd Azharuddin as the only members of the 99 Tests club. To be candid, he was lucky to make that comeback at Mumbai where he was clearly well past his best.
If in batting, Cheteshwar Pujara was the saving grace, Pragyan Ojha offered some solace in the bowling department. A bowler who was generally thought good enough to contain but not be incisive finished with 20 wickets.
Ravichandran Ashwin, on the other hand, presented a problem and by the end of the contest he was more a batsman than a bowler. One fears that with the improvement in his batting his bowling could well suffer. Harbhajan’s decline can well be traced to his back to back hundreds against New Zealand a couple of years ago. Ishant Sharma was a case of taking one step forward and two steps backward.
After what has happened to Yuvraj and Kohli and in the later stages of the series to Pujara, one can’t be blamed for being sceptical about fringe players like Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Manoj Tiwari, Rahul Sharma, Ashok Dinda and others. Indeed the just concluded series has made us all cynics leaving us to conclude that the immediate future of Indian cricket is anything but bright.