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India in 2014: New set of challenges and possibilities lie ahead

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India’s record at home in 2013 was formidable © AFP

By Karthik Parimal

In 2013, India was the only side unbeaten in Test cricket before they were pummelled on the penultimate day by one of the best bowling attacks in the world. The defeat against South Africa notwithstanding, it was a fairly successful year, at least on the field. Off it, the grime emerging from the Indian Premier League (IPL), and the exit of one of the most revered players in the form of Sachin Tendulkar, took the sheen off what could have been a momentous twelve months.

Nonetheless, most of the Tests were played at home, and it wasn’t hard to distinguish the better side in the two games that were played away, towards the fag end of the year. A few crevices, in all forms of the sport, continue to exist, which is why it’s safe to say that the apprehensions which surfaced to the fore for the first time almost two-and-a-half years ago are yet to be quelled. Each year, though, brings with it a new set of possibilities and, for a cricket nut like the writer, expectations are aplenty, more so with respect to Indian cricket. How amazing would it be if India signs off 2014 with the following boxes ticked?

Unearth a fast bowler who can have the opposition hopping

Perhaps Mitchell Johnson’s recent spates of results against a hapless English line-up fuelled this desire, but let’s not forget the fact that the Indians have yearned for a fast bowler of such quality for at least a decade now. The likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Johnson, et al. are capable of nimbly assaulting any opposition with a barrage of projectiles and can single-handedly engineer a win. India’s potent spin department is capable of inflicting similar damage, albeit mostly on sub-continent turfs, but nothing beats the sight of a fast bowler darting in with an intimidating spark in his eyes.

India has express bowlers in the form of Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav, but the duo has seldom looked menacing. Frequent injuries have further attenuated their efficiency. Aaron, though, has been recalled for the upcoming tour of New Zealand, and it presents a perfect platform for him to essay what he was originally roped in for. The big question, however, is whether he’d compromise on pace? Hopefully not; and, as mentioned in one of writer’s earlier articles, the powers that be of Indian cricket can help him preserve and thrive on that trait of his. Looking at India’s itinerary for the year, a tearaway quick could prove to be handful on the green or seamer-friendly tracks that are likely to be meted out overseas.

A series win against England in their backyard

The last time India triumphed against the English was in the summer of 2007 under the stewardship of Rahul Dravid. In 2011, it was the commencement of India’s worst performance on away soil, as they were trounced relentlessly by a side that was on its way to the top of the league. One of the repercussions was that the term ‘poor travellers’ reacquainted itself with India. Although most of the other teams, too, fail to bag wins away from home, the label stuck with the Indians for their notable insipidity. Further drubbing in Australia etched this tag in concrete.

At the moment, the Indian unit looks in reasonably good shape, much sharper than the previous team that toured there, whereas the English have embarked down a slippery slope. July, though, is a good seven months away and the time is ample enough for the tables to turn. Nevertheless, keeping in mind the earlier debacle, the Indians must know what’s likely to be hurled at them. If they can pull off a series win, it should silence the naysayers, the ones who’re understandably a little sceptical about India’s chances currently.

Cricket over boardroom theatrics

After the Johannesburg Test between India and South Africa, many rued the fact that it was limited to just two games. It is inevitable that the top two teams in the world produce cricket of the highest kind, but boardroom politics reigned over common-sense and fans around the world were unquestionably short-changed the previous year. It shouldn’t be arduous for the head honchos to figure that battle of dexterity between players in the confines of a cricket field is at all times preferred over the war of egos of the executives. Hopefully, the focus this year shifts to more pressing issues like deep-rooted corruption in the sport and refinement of the domestic structure rather than nipping ties with bodies that work toward the common cause of delivering quality cricket to the viewers.

If the above three eventually transpire, Indian cricket will head into the next phase with renewed vigour. A win in the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 will be an icing on the cake, but it’s unlikely that they’ll be placed on a pedestal if they win just that and muck the big ones, especially matches pertaining to the original format of the sport. What have you got in store, 2014?

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)

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