The 2013-14 season promises to be more than just a season of hope for the Indian team. As usual, it is going to be a busy period, with Australia coming over in October for a one day contest and then West Indies arriving for a two Test series. This is to be followed by tours to South Africa and New Zealand.
Those are the scheduled tours anyway from October to January but one can never be sure with the BCCI around. The West Indies tour has been hastily arranged – it was never part of the Future Tours Programme – so whether more fixtures will be added or cut depends on the BCCI’s whims and fancies.
But the business of the cricketers is to play the matches and it is to their credit that they have not been affected by the shenanigans of the BCCI but have continued to focus on events on the field. And India’s overall ranking is the best among the ten senior teams – No 1 in ODIs, No 2 in Tests and No 3 in T-20 internationals.
It goes without saying that the season will be an important one for Indian cricket. For one thing it could well see the end of Sachin Tendulkar’s long and illustrious career. Once he plays his 200th Test and becomes the first to reach that landmark, it is difficult to see even a dedicated and focused cricketer like him to continue much longer.
With no more goals to be achieved, even Tendulkar will find it difficult to motivate himself and one can safely predict that it is only a matter of months before he finally rides off into the sunset.
It’s never easy to replace a legend and the emptiness will be felt for some time – particularly when the player in question is Tendulkar. But the game does not stop and Indian cricket has got oodles of talent in the reserve bench.
More than once in the past, the team has got over the retirement of a great player and produced results. One must not forget that in the last five years, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have retired in turns but Indian cricket has found adequate replacements and gone on to achieve great things.
The rise to the No 1 spot in the Test rankings came the year after Ganguly and Kumble retired and the triumphs in the World Cup in 2011 and the Champions Trophy in 2013 were notched up when Dravid and Laxman (and in the latter case even Tendulkar) were not part of the squad.
So the impressive march has continued with the likes of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli and Ravichandran Ashwin taking over the mantle and keeping the Indian flag flying.
And now with Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh no longer in the scheme of things – it is hard to say whether this is temporary or permanent - Indian cricket continues to perform admirably with the likes of Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar stepping up to the plate.
A lot will undoubtedly be heard of these players in the coming season with many more waiting in the wings. And it is the latter thought that really warms the heart of the Indian cricket follower. Two A tours, one to South Africa and the other involving New Zealand in this country, have helped bring to the fore the enormous talent of the players of tomorrow.
Not too long ago little was known about Rahane, Ashwin, Umesh and Bhuvneshwar but they all proved that they could perform at the international level. Similarly there are already a number of young cricketers who have shown that they are ready for the India cap and could live up to their potential.
Actually the names just roll off the tongue for there are so many. Some are well known players who have already donned the India cap and are eager to play in more internationals like Manoj Tiwari, Dinesh Karthik, Wriddhiman Saha, Jaydev Unadkat, Pragyan Ojha, Piyush Chawla and Amit Mishra.
All of them have come up with top notch performances of late. But the most heartening aspect has been the form displayed by the GenNext of players. Some of the names may not yet be familiar with Indian cricket followers but the majority of the players have it in them to be part of the Indian squad sooner or later.
The Indian A team had a successful tour of South Africa, winning the tri-series which involved the hosts and Australia, while the two 'Test' match series was leveled at 1-1. And while the established stars like Dhawan, Pujara, Raina, Rahane and Rohit performed admirably, the main positives involved the encouraging form shown by the newer players.
Indian coach Duncan Fletcher expressed confidence that Indian cricket would be safe for the next three years if these players were persisted with. Fletcher was particularly pleased with Ishwar Pandey, a 24-year-old fast bowler from Madhya Pradesh, who took eleven wickets in the two 'Tests'.
Other bowlers in the running for higher honours include Pervez Rasool, the Jammu & Kashmir off spinner, Shahbaz Nadeem, the left arm spinner from Jharkhand, Jalaj Saxena, the off spinner from Madhya Pradesh and Mohit Sharma, the medium pacer from Haryana.
Among the batsmen, a lot could be heard in the near future from Unmukt Chand, Vijay Zol and Manprit Juneja. Chand, who led India to a memorable triumph in the Under-19 World Cup last year in Australia, has already been hailed as the next big thing in Indian cricket while Zol and Juneja have impressed in the ongoing A series against New Zealand.
While Zol, an 18-year-old left hander, notched up a hundred in his maiden first class match, Juneja’s big hundred in the second 'Test' has seen him march towards a remarkable average of almost 80 after 12 first class games.
This then is the most heartening scenario for the future of Indian cricket that the GenNext of cricketers – whenever required – are ready to step in.