By Andrew Bloxham
Browsing various cricketing websites and forums, an almost religious tendency of mine on any given day, I get the distinct impression that many Indian pundits and fans alike are a little ‘doom and gloom’, shall we say, concerning the future prospects of their side in Test cricket. Indeed, some maverick heathens have even gone so far as to suggest that India should treat the game’s longest format as somewhat of a sideshow to high-octane limited overs competitions.
As reigning One-Day International world champions, and with the ever burgeoning success of the Indian Premier League (IPL) seemingly gaining precedence amongst a number of supporters, players and of course the money men, the question of whether India are going to be sufficiently equipped to compete in Test cricket in the long-term is a valid one.
Naturally, with the recent retirement of Test batting stalwart Rahul Dravid, and the looming departure of fellow living legends Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, there is every reason for concern amongst the Indian cricketing fraternity. Augment that with recent Test performances packing all the punch of an alcohol-free cocktail in a straitjacket, and one could be excused in forecasting a rather bleak outlook.
But is the situation really all that dire? In fact, given the wealth of talent consistently performing to remarkable levels in first-class cricket, would it be too preposterous of me to suggest that it is well within India's capabilities to become the world’s greatest side in each and every format over the course of the next five years?
Batsmen possessing the unique obdurate technical and mental qualities of the likes of Dravid are born - not made. But within a fanatical cricketing nation, whose booming population exceeds one billion, the talent pool runs both wide and deep. The conveyor belt of Indian cricket has historically produced exceptionally-talented batsmen, and that is one trend at least that appears unremitting. Where Indian cricket aficionados shudder at the very thought of the retirement of their golden generation of batsmen, I would point them in the direction of domestic run-scoring leviathans Ajinkya Rahane, averaging 68.47 in first-class cricket, Rohit Sharma (63.52), Manoj Tiwary (61.07) and Cheteshwar Pujara (53.50). After all, a top seven of Gambhir, Rahane, Pujara, Sharma, Kohli, Tiwary and Dhoni possesses a look as formidable as a rampaging Indian elephant commandeered by a tiger blood infused Charlie Sheen, does it not?
The gulf between Test cricket and Indian domestic cricket may be akin to a child’s progression from Subbuteo to playground soccer, but such records are not attained through inconsiderable talent. Of course, other highly-talented Indian youngsters, Suresh Raina being a prime example, have come unstuck on quicker overseas decks, but with youth and talent in abundance there remains significant cause for optimism. Batting aside, the fielding standards of the Indian Test team will also undoubtedly be raised by the inauguration of these children of the IPL revolution. Fast bowling, India’s perpetual deficiency, is still very much the quandary.
Powered by the financial juggernaut that is the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Indian cricket certainly has the wherewithal to address such a problem, and indeed is already showing signs of doing so. Umesh Yadav, a genuinely express bowler capable of reaching speeds of 90 mph, garnered some success during India’s recent humbling on Australian soil, despite at times looking as economically sound as a Greek investment banking group. Varun Aaron, another young speedster, has recently been introduced to ODI cricket and looks to be a real find. Add medium-pacer Praveen Kumar, a canny swing bowler that stood out for India in the 2011 tour of England in to the equation and India have a perfectly capable battery of seamers to complement promising spin bowlers in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Consistency amongst India’s young seamers remains an issue, but sceptics should remember that the world’s two finest fast bowlers, Dale Steyn and James Anderson, did not find immediate success in their respective Test careers. In Yadav and Aaron in particular therein lies hope that a new breed of Indian fast bowler is arriving on the scene, and that money ploughed in to developing such bowlers by the BCCI is beginning to bear a rather wholesome fruit.
Amongst my suggestions I have of course neglected to mention current Test stars Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan. These two mercurial cricketers still have a significant role to play going forward, despite the advance of years, but if anything their omission here further highlights that India have greater strength in depth than those naysayers would have you believe.
England, South Africa and the re-emerging Australia will no doubt have something to say about India’s chances of ascension to the summit of world cricket, but one key element of my hypothetical Indian line-up is consistency. Those players listed possess the all-round skills required to succeed in each and every format of the game, ultimately creating the possibility of a situation where the Indian Test team mirrors the Indian Twenty20 team. Their adversaries have no such luxury, and it gives India a decided edge.
There are plenty of trials and tribulations ahead for India’s latest crop of hugely exciting youngsters, of that there is no doubt. Batsmen will need to adapt their technique for faster and swinging conditions, as the great Rahul Dravid did before them, and bowlers will need to alter their lines, lengths and variations to suit. India sit on the cusp of seeing another golden generation break through, and their emergence couldn’t be timelier if it’d come disguised as a Rolex watch.
Will they rule the cricketing world within five years? Only father time holds that answer, but contrary to the beliefs of a dispirited nation I for one envisage India being a considerable force for years to come. Like any new relationship, there may be doubts and hiccoughs along the way, but once the dust settles India should be feared once more.
(Andrew Bloxham is a part-time cricket writer from England who can be followed on Twitter (@Andrew_Bloxham) or on his blog - http://andy-bloxham.blogspot.com/)