The most important lesson to be learnt from the Indian viewpoint in the just concluded series against England is that there is nothing to worry about as far as limited overs cricket is concerned. Not only were there several plus points in the victorious campaign but the fact that the team is right up there is confirmed by the ICC rankings which have India at No 1 in ODIs and No 3 in T-20s. If there is an area of concern, it is Test cricket where India are as low as No 5 in the rankings.
It would be easy to dismiss the 3-2 verdict in India’s favour as one of no major consequence achieved as it was at home and with England missing a couple of key players. But that would be unfair to Dhoni and his men for the opposition were still a very worthy lot. Any team that has Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Tim Bresnan, Steve Finn, Kevin Pietersen, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan in the line-up cannot be dismissed as just another side.
In any case England are virtually joint first with India in the latest rankings so there was much merit in the victory. Moreover there were a lot of positives which augur well for the future and admittedly while the few negatives were the kind that one cannot gloss over they were not factors to cause a major concern.
The major plus points were the discovery of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and the performance of Ravindra Jadeja which saw him cement a place in the limited overs squad. The left handed all rounder had been in and out of the team but he is clearly no more a fringe player. Whatever his limitations at the Test level he has all the qualities for a successful career in limited overs cricket.
A pugnacious attacking batsman, a bowler who has a lot of variations in pace, flight and direction and is not afraid to give the ball air and a more than safe field is just what the Indian team requires and it is clear that he is now a permanent fixture in ODIs and T-20 internationals.
It is always good to have two utility players coming in at No 7 and No 8 to bolster the batting in case of a top or middle order collapse and Jadeja and Ashwin can plug the two holes. Ashwin did not exactly cover himself with glory with bat or ball but one would like to think that this is a mere aberration and he should be persevered with.
Even among the plethora of young fast bowling hopefuls, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar stands out. It is perhaps dangerous to predict great things for him considering the fact that many young pacemen have fallen by the wayside after promising much. But I am prepared to stick my neck out when it comes to Bhuvaneshwar.
He is here to stay and in fact should be promoted to the Test level sooner rather than later. He has all the requisites for a fast bowler – pace, bounce, accuracy, hostility, movement, stamina. In fact the lad from Meerut who turns 23 in a week’s time should be sent right away to Glenn McGrath at the MRF Pace Foundation.
The former Aussie pace great is the right person to train him along the right path so that he emerges an even better bowler. Indeed he has it in him to become yet another utility player for he hits the ball cleanly as he showed in the final ODI at Dharamsala. He has a first class hundred too but one hopes he concentrates more on his bowling for it is in this department that greatness beckons.
The other plus factors concerned established players. Suresh Raina is of course indispensable when it comes to limited overs cricket and the man of the series award was just reward for some commanding batting. When it comes to the crunch situations, the 26- year-old left hander can be counted upon to come good and his willingness to play the lofted shot with gay abandon and clear the field makes him a dangerous opponent.
MS Dhoni’s game is tailor made for limited overs cricket while Virat Kohli just about maintained his growing reputation. The failure of Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir to be among the runs constituted the major negative factor. Ajinkya Rahane not making the most of his opportunities was a disappointment for there is little doubt that he is among the front runners of the GenNext of batsmen.
Ishant Sharma was a bit of an enigma. When he was good he was very good but on his off day he can be frightfully profligate. Perhaps the time has come to lighten his workload and play him only in Test matches. With Zaheer Khan on his last legs, Ishant is the best candidate to spearhead the pace attack given his skill, hostility and experience.
He has always looked most threatening in the game’s traditional format because he is a rhythm bowler, a wicket-taker. He loves bowling fast and with his height can intimidate the best of batsmen with bouncers and short deliveries. It is not in his style or approach to bowl negatively or restrict the flow of runs a duty which he has to perform in limited overs cricket.
If VVS Laxman for much of his international career was considered a specialist Test batsman, perhaps the time has come for Ishant to be considered a specialist Test bowler. Reducing his workload and leaving him free to bowl in the style he loves best would make him that much more effective in the longer version of the game.