The inescapable conclusion that can be drawn from India’s triumph in the Champions Trophy is that the team could well be strong enough to retain the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 2015.
The nucleus of a great ODI squad is all too obvious and the manner in which it is performing, it can only go from strength to strength and finally emerge as a team with no real weaknesses. In batting, bowling, fielding and captaincy, the team is shaping into the best Indian ODI squad of all time.
In a tough competition, which saw the eight top teams in world cricket participate, to have a record of played five, won five is something Dhoni and his boys can be immensely proud of. This right away is comparable to the other notable triumph in Indian cricket where the Indians had a similar record – the World Championship of Cricket campaign in Australia in 1985.
On that occasion, India defeated Pakistan, England, Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan again in the final to emerge victorious. This time the opponents overrun were South Africa, Pakistan, West Indies, Sri Lanka and England. This is one reason why the WCC triumph was hailed as greater than the World Cup triumph in 1983 because in the latter campaign the Indians suffered two defeats on their way to the title.
For that matter even the victorious 2011 campaign included a loss and a tie. But what is unique about the latest victory is that there was no need to make any changes in the team. The same squad played in all the five matches giving the impression of a well settled unit besides being a tribute to the team members’ fitness.
What is even more encouraging is that the Champions Trophy triumph was shaped by a young squad. There was no Zaheer Khan, no Virender Sehwag, no Gautam Gambhir, no Harbhajan Singh, no Yuvraj Singh. And none of these stalwarts were missed with the youngsters performing admirably. And with some talented youth waiting on the sidelines there is every reason to believe that the future is even brighter.
The great thing about the present squad is the balance. The presence of Ravindra Jadeja means that the side has five frontline bowlers without compromising on the batting. With his utility qualities, the left hander is a tower of strength both in the middle order batting with his lusty blows and with his accurate left arm spinners which with their impeccable stump to stump line gives the batsman hardly any room to play aggressive shots. Batsmen playing across to Jadeja have paid the penalty time and again.
For some time now Ravichandran Ashwin has been the country’s No 1 spin bowler in both Tests and limited overs cricket and the Champions Trophy only doubly confirmed his exalted status. His bowling in the final in particular was an object lesson in how to use the helpful conditions and the maiden over he sent down to Eoin Morgan late in the game was priceless under the circumstances. He keeps the batsmen guessing with his assorted bag of tricks giving them no respite at all.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar was expected to be one of the successes given his type of bowling which is ideally suited to English conditions. The one factor that stood out against him was his inexperience but he showed no signs of nerves, kept harassing the batsmen with his late swing and there is little doubt that he has come to stay as the Indian spearhead.
Umesh Yadav was expensive but the pace of his deliveries stood out and there is little doubt that he should be persevered with. Ishant Sharma rose to the heights one day and plumbed the depths the next – sometimes in the same match – but one experienced hand is necessary.
The batting has very rarely let the team down and this time the top order did their job so admirably that the middle order had little to do. It was good to see Rohit Sharma come off though one suspects his place is still in the middle order.
Little need be said about Shikhar Dhawan who is the emerging superstar. Dinesh Karthik is fearless against fast bowling and pulls and hooks with relish. Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina are quite indispensable in the middle order and the latter’s lean trot can be discarded as a one off failure.
Moreover the two add considerable panache to the fielding and this seems to be contagious. Even less athletic members of the team got into the act and at the moment the Indians could well be the best fielding side in the game.
And what can one say about Dhoni the captain? That the latest triumph is yet another feather in his well decorated cap, that he is a great motivator, that he is not easily flustered and keeps his cool even in the most trying circumstances.
It could not have been an easy task leading the Indian team in an important tournament right after the many scandals and controversies associated with the IPL – at least one of which was directly linked to him. But once on the field Dhoni has this happy knack of putting all the seamier aspects behind him and focus fully on the task ahead. This he did commendably as the final result will confirm.
In conclusion, credit is also due to Sandeep Patil and his selection committee for taking some bold, imaginative and farsighted decisions. It is imperative that they continue to look ahead and build for the future.