By Nishad Pai Vaidya
The year 2011 has been a roller-coaster ride for Indian cricket with Team India experiencing the exhilarating high of winning the World Cup to going through sustained humiliation on the recently-concluded tour of England.
It may well be pay back time when England lock horns with Team India on Indian soil later this month. Playing India in India has always been tough for the best of teams and it will be no different for England, despite its unquestioned domination of India in the recent series.
However, England would be relieved by the fact that India will still not be able to field their full-strength eleven as some of their key players like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel and Ishant Sharma will miss the series due to niggles.
The scoreline of the England tour doesn’t reflect the contrasting tales of the Indian batting in the Test and the ODI series. The Indian batting looked susceptible to collapses in the Test series and hardly put up a fight against an inspired England bowling attack. Barring Rahul Dravid, none of the Indian batsmen showed the skill and the temperament to fight it out in the middle. In contrast, the depleted Indian line-up showed immense character in the ODI series as they put up good totals on most occasions. Even when they collapsed at The Oval, the lower order showed the intent to hang in there and managed to take the score to a level of respectability.
The return of Gautam Gambhir would certainly bolster India’s batting. Injuries haunted his tour of England but his latest showings in the CLT20 indicate that he is hungry and in good nick. The knocks he played for Kolkata in their last two games of the Group Stage augur well for India as he showed positive intent and dominated the bowlers during his stay at the crease. Gambhir is a big-match player and has a good temperament to handle to pressure situations. His wealth of experience will help guide the top order.
The return of Gambhir would present a few questions before Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the selectors. Ajinkya Rahane and Parthiv Patel forged a successful opening partnership in England and were consistent throughout the series. Both of them handled the English new ball bowlers well and attacked only when they got their eye in. Patel showed good technique against the short deliveries and Rahane displayed promise with his textbook approach. Dhoni may not want to break this opening partnership, but in the absence of Tendulkar and Sehwag, it is also important that Gambhir opens the batting.
Gambhir is an opener by trade and is comfortable upfront. The presence of Tendulkar and Sehwag has pushed him down to No 3, but whenever they have missed a game, Gambhir has stepped into their shoes and done very well. For the series against England, he needs to open the batting as Parthiv and Rahane can’t match him in experience.
If Gambhir opens the batting, it would be interesting to see who would walk out with him to face the new ball. Parthiv has shown good aggression opening the batting and Dhoni may want him to continue at that spot. But, if he wants to maintain a right-left opening combination, then Rahane would walk out with Gambhir. It is not an easy decision but there are merits both ways.
Virat Kohli, Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja would comprise the middle order. Kohli’s hundred at Cardiff was a positive sign as he showed signs of maturing into a dependable batsman. Dhoni and Raina had a good time in the ODI series in England and would like to carry on their good work on friendly pitches at home.
It was surprising to see Jadeja being left out of the Rest of India playing eleven for the Irani Trophy. That game would have given him a good chance to score some runs and also roll his arm over. He was a surprise choice for the England tour but turned out to be one of the positives for India in an otherwise forgettable tour. His prowess with the bat has improved as he is alert for the opportunities to score and doesn’t get bogged down in the middle. In the home series against England he should continue to be India’s No 7 and the valuable fifth bowler.
It would be fair to say that one can expect a much-improved performance by Team India in the forthcoming matches ahead and wipe out memories of the recent disappointments.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")