There is always a thrill when a new cricket season starts. Of course these days one does not know when the old season ends and when the new one begins what with the non- stop cricket being played round the year. However a short gap of four months is a luxury for cricketers these days and indeed the Indian team’s last international assignment was the Asia Cup in Dhaka in March. So it can be taken that the upcoming tour of Sri Lanka marks the beginning of the 2012-13 season.
It might be a short trip consisting of five ODIs and a single Twenty20 game. But well begun is half done and a successful tour could stand the Indian cricketers in very good stead for the many sterner tests during the long season ahead.
There are any number of Tests, ODIs and Twenty20 internationals with the pick of the season probably being the Twenty20 World Cup to be held in Sri Lanka in September. To that end it is good that the Indians are playing in that very country but then of course the Indians have visited Sri Lanka any number of times in recent years and there is not much difference in the wicket and weather conditions.
What is more important is that the 2012-13 season is going to be an important phase in Indian cricket. These are rather critical times underlined by the double debacle in England and Australia, the failure of the Indian team to make the final of the CB series `Down Under’ and the inability to make it to the title clash in the Asia Cup.
The ICC rankings would seem to confirm India’s steep slide for at the moment the team is fifth in the Test ratings, fourth in ODIs and seventh in Twenty20 internationals. Just over a year ago the picture was much rosier. The fact remains that the Indian team is going through a transitional period and there is a rather unsettled look about all their three outfits.
In Test matches the failure of the superstars in England and Australia has dimmed the lustre though of course Rahul Dravid has retired. In ODIs there were a few question marks over the lack of form displayed by some reputed players – and others who are over rated - in both the CB series and the Asia Cup.
In Twenty20 the low standing of the team underscores the fact that since the heady triumph in the inaugural World Cup in South Africa five years ago it has been downhill all the way. Interest in the game’s shortest and newest format – at least for the Indian cricketer – clearly centres round the happenings in the IPL.
So there is need for a bit of a repair job if not a downright overhaul and this is right down the line – from the top order to the middle order in the batting and in both pace and spin bowling. In a smug way the authorities always say that there is nothing to worry about the future of Indian cricket as the reserve bench is strong.
But while it is true that on the face of it there are a number of talented young players around the question to be asked is how good are they? Are they ready for an India cap? And among those who have played limited overs cricket for the country, the question will be are they ready to be elevated to Test cricket? One can’t be too sure in answering these questions in the affirmative and therein lies the problem.
So, much then will still depend on the seniors some of them surely in the evening of their career or past their best. This is true even in the case of Sachin Tendulkar who during the season will complete 23 years in international cricket. A close look at his career figures will indicate a bit of a slide which is not exactly a surprise even for someone like him.
No one can go on forever and it is a tribute to Tendulkar’s class, skill and enthusiasm that he is still able to contribute more than usefully if not in keeping with his exalted status as one of the all-time greats. The focus will also be on the likes of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, VVS Laxman and Zaheer Khan in Tests and a few seniors when it comes to ODIs.
What about Harbhajan Singh? Can he stage a comeback or has he already played his last game for India? Much interest will also centre round Yuvraj Singh. Has he recovered well enough to be a tower of strength in the middle order in ODIs and perhaps even in Tests?
Why, even MS Dhoni can no longer take his place for granted in Tests. If the other seniors come under the scanner for their failures during the double debacle in England and Australia, why should the skipper be exempted? A couple of more disasters this season to follow the debacles of last season could make a deep dent in his already fractured captaincy record.
So the season could also determine whether the seniors have it in them to carry on for a while longer or whether they have reached the end of the line.