ICC Champions Trophy 2013: A new beginning beckons Team India

The two best finishers in ODI’s, MS Dhoni (left) and Suresh Raina, can be used as floaters and they can shift gears with consummate ease © Getty Images

By Sarang Bhalerao

The murky episode of spot-fixing and betting scandal has brought shame to this pristine game of cricket. Amidst this shambolic episode lies a hope: of Team India doing exceedingly well in the upcoming ICC Champions Trophy. A good brand of cricket will be like a soothing balm to the battered souls of cricket fans.

The 15-man squad has that challenge (of playing good cricket) in front of them at the time when the spot-fixing episode is popping up names of the perpetrators like popcorn in hot air. The country needs its cricket team to do well.

For the Indian team the challenge is to fight against the history post the Indian Premier League (IPL). Several players in the past have complained about the burn-out. India’s performance has deteriorated after the IPL. The 2009 and 2010 editions of World T20 competitions were after the IPL and India failed to qualify for the semi-final stage. Was it because of too much of cricket? The players seem to dismiss this notion. They are optimistic about their chances ahead of the Champions Trophy. Let us believe in them as we always do.

But does this team have the ability to win the tournament? It surely does. But they would want to be the Manchester United of the English Premier League or Rafael Nadal who seems impregnable on the clay court. At the current moment the team needs to aim for those unprecedented levels of consistency. And the team has many members passed out from the University of ‘Talent’ but their post-graduation in University of ‘Performance’ is lot to be desired. But the good news is that they have the ‘ability’.

Take the case of Shikhar Dhawan. He is a certainty to open the innings in England. But revisit that October day in 2011 when Dhawan took a leg-stump guard for India for the first time in this format. He was dismissed for a duck off the second ball. The only other Indian batsman who achieved this dubious distinction is Sachin Tendulkar who has left an indelible imprint on the 50-over version of the game. For Dhawan, whose five-ODI experience has been average, this is a second lease of life. His Test match debut against Australia showed his gamut of shots and spoke volumes about his temperament. And at the time when India needed a makeover at the top of the order, especially when his Delhi counterparts were struggling to get the ball off the square, Dhawan’s inclusion has ignited a lot of pragmatism. If you were to extrapolate and prophesize his ODI career referring to his Mohali magic then Dhawan is here to stay.

Murali Vijay has had his fair share of criticism for not delivering in the ODI format. An average of 17.81 and a strike-rate of 61.82 in 11 ODIs is hardly path-breaking.  Yet, he, in all probability, will be opening with Dhawan. Vijay has paved his way into the team due to his twin tons against Australia in the recently concluded Test series. But his litmus test will be in the conditions where the ball moves a tad. His tendency to drive on-the-up might just work against him. And to be honest, Vijay’s technique was found wanting when India visited South Africa just before the World Cup in 2011.

Dinesh Karthik has an outside chance to open the batting considering his solid record in England albeit as a Test opener. He was pivotal in getting India to good starts when Rahul Dravid led India to a series win back in 2007. The water-tight technique and the ability to rise to the occasion stood Karthik in good stead. But Dhoni’s mercurial rise as a cricketer did overshadow the diminutive Karthik. However, do not judge Karthik by his pocket-sized looks as they could be deceptive. Be rest assured, he will want to grab any opportunity with both hands and stake his claim as a batsman in the team.

The blue chip stock of India is its middle order. Virat Kohli is an investment that offers a great return on investment. His performance over the last three seasons has made the cricketing world sit up and take notice of him. He is no longer a brash little kid who plays an eye-catching knock of 30. For him, getting out is a delinquency. Be it a preliminary match against any minnows or a World Cup final, he hits his bat on the ground in disgust after getting out. A good number of expletives come out of his mouth as well. But he wears his heart on his sleeves.

Rohit Sharma is akin to a stock that promises a good performance, but somehow often fails to fulfil the potential. Yet, investors want to hold on to that stock. It is high time that Rohit vindicates his rich talent as it is a felony to have the aforementioned special quality without performance to supplement it. As is the case with every tournament Rohit is just an innings away from fulfilling his potential. It better be in England.

Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni are two of the best finishers in ODIs currently. Both of them can be used as floaters and they can shift gears with consummate ease. But there is a disclaimer. These two gentlemen are vulnerable early on in the innings when the ball is moving. They do not have a century outside subcontinent. There is an opportunity to set that record straight. There is no denying the fact that the duo has the propensity to win games for India anytime, anywhere.

Ravindra Jadeja is still ‘Work in Progress’ as far as the ODI format is concerned. He presents Dhoni with an option of an extra spinner and his batting dexterity is an added advantage. Ravichandran Ashwin is a frontline spinner and Irfan Pathan’s bowling will be preferred in the English conditions. Jadeja might miss some games because the conditions are bound to be in favour of the seam bowlers. Even Amit Mishra will have to wait for his chances. His best chance is against South Africa who traditionally struggle against the leg-spinners. Dhoni might just take that gamble against the Proteas.

India, according to captain Dhoni, have the “right mix” to exploit the seamer-friendly conditions. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is Dhoni’s trump card. Getting prodigious swing early-on is his forte. Umesh Yadav bowls with searing pace and has the ability to move the ball with that pace.

Ishant Sharma and Vinay Kumar have both had tussles with injuries. For Vinay, injuries have come at times when he was at the peak of his bowling prowess. But his relentless pursuit for excellence has prevented him from fading into obscurity. Vinay might have to wait for his opportunities as Irfan’s batting prowess and Ishant, being a proven performer, might get a nod ahead of him. But whenever he gets a chance Vinay will certainly have to give his best.

This is an ideal opportunity to gauge the temperaments of a few before the next World Cup. A core group needs to get formed. A young squad, hungry for success, has the onus of delivering in England. Will they succeed? What will be the balance of the team? And will Yuvraj Singh be missed? At the moment let us be pragmatic about Team India. They surely have the ingredients to script a successful sojourn. A new beginning beckons.

(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)