Is India ready for the post-Tendulkar era?

Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement from ODIs in December 2012 © Getty Images

India’s emphatic victory in the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 in England is a positive sign for the future of Indian cricket. With Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement from the longer format of the game around the corner, is the MS Dhoni-led India ready for the post-Tendulkar era? Prakash Govindasreenivasan has more.

Anybody who has grown up watching Indian cricket through the 1990s and early 2000s will testify the fact that the sport was synonymous to one name — Sachin Tendulkar. The period was glorious, when fans differentiated between the team’s success and that of Tendulkar’s and revelled more in the latter. Tendulkar was considered the focal point of the team and the team’s performance depended heavily on the Mumbaikar’s form with the willow.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has been severely criticised for not planning well for retirements. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman — the two stalwarts of the game — called time on their respective careers and left a void in the Indian middle-order. With Tendulkar’s retirement from Test cricket imminent, one wonders if this side will be able to take the loss of a player of such repute. Will they cope with the pressure of not having a player like Tendulkar around? The answer, based on recent results, is in the affirmative.

Back in 2011, the team was left severely battered and bruised after a 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Andrew Strauss’ England. The team failed collectively with Dravid being the only positive to take forward. His form, however, ran out and India were hit by another 4-0 defeat, this time by Michael Clarke’s Australia. India’s reputation of being shoddy away from home was given more weight in the light of these two results. At such a stage, to have Dravid and Laxman quit the game was quite alarming. Just when the selectors were starting to find solutions for poor performances, they were burdened by the need for able replacements in the middle-order.

When England travelled to India for a four-match Test series, the enraged public hoped for revenge. But that would not be. Alastair Cook’s men put on a spirited performance and won the series 2-1 to leave India in despair. To make matters worse, indifferent form and diminishing hand-eye coordination meant the media would hound Tendulkar with the retirement question.

The team reached its nadir when they suffered a 2-1 defeat to Pakistan in a three-match ODI series at home. Just before the series began Tendulkar announced his retirement from limited-overs cricket, choosing to focus on Tests and play on for as long as possible.

The turn around

The home series defeat to England also put a question mark over MS Dhoni’s captaincy, some suggesting that he had started to run out of luck. The loss to Pakistan indicated that the team was not capable of handling the transition period well. And then came the turnaround.

Clarke’s Australia travelled to India in early 2013 with the hope of replicating England’s form in the sub-continent. However, they had to deal with a side that was desperate to regain footing. What followed was a 4-0 drubbing for Australia as India rose to the occasion in an attempt to nullify what had transpired in the last 18 months. A few heads rolled and India put forth a relatively inexperienced side. Shikhar Dhawan played a scintillating knock on debut, Dhoni put on his best performance with the bat in Test cricket and Ravindra Jadeja grew from strength to strength. All of a sudden, the team emerged victorious without needing Tendulkar to play a pivotal role.

The following two months were spent in players getting involved in the Indian Premier League and there was still a doubt whether India would pick a young squad or go back to some of its seniors for the ICC Champions Trophy 2013. The selectors chose the former and what a choice it was!

A young brigade led by an astute leader in Dhoni finished the tournament as champions, winning every game. With a win in England, Dhoni did not just add another trophy to his already densely populated trophy cabinet, but also proved that the team is ready to take on any challenge that comes its way.

If Tendulkar himself, looks back and compares the side that he was a sheet anchor of in the 1990s and 2000s and the current one, he will notice a great deal of change. For the first time in the history of Indian cricket, the team is being labelled as the best fielding unit. The players have shown positive intent in chases and unlike the earlier eras, shoulders have seldom dropped. There is a great fighting spirit amongst the players and it proves that the team will have the intent to perform even in the absence of Tendulkar. With the chances of his retirement after the South Africa tour looking possible, the board need to plan for life without the maestro. To their relief, the current crop has shown the ability to perform well as a unit and have shouldered the responsibility equally in times of crisis. The board and the fans have enough reasons to believe that this team is ready for the post-Tendulkar era.

(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @PrakashG_89)