Shikhar Dhawan (right) and Virat Kohli © Getty Images
For the first time in 14 years India have three batsmen who have scored thousand runs or more in a calendar year in One-Day Internationals © Getty Images

 

By Ritwik Mallik

 

By beating the West Indies at Kanpur on Wednesday, Team India notched up their sixth consecutive One-Day International (ODI) series win in 2013. With wins against England, Australia and the coveted Champions Trophy in their kitty, the team has raised visions that this could be the start of Indian cricket’s next golden generation.

 

However, it would be premature to entertain such thoughts and it would make eminent sense to hold one’s horses — at least till Kingsmead is conquered.

 

The signs are promising, no doubt. After Ajay Jadeja, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid did it in 1999, for the first time in 14 years we have three Indian batsmen who have scored ODI thousand runs or more in a calendar year. The way India’s top three — Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli — have stamped their authority in ODIs is commendable, to say the least.

 

Dhawan has made the most of his second coming, bludgeoning his way to multiple hundreds, both at home and away.

 

Rohit, Dhawan’s opening partner, is finally optimising is enormous talent, scoring a double hundred in the ODIs and consecutive hundreds in the two-Test series against the West Indies.

 

If Sir Don Bradman felt that Sachin Tendulkar reminded him of his [Bradman] own batting, Viv Richards said that Kohli reminded him of himself [Richards]. “I love watching Virat Kohli bat. He looks to me like an individual of my own heart. I love his aggression, and [he has] serious passion that I used to have. He reminds me of myself. He is an individual who doesn’t back off from confrontation; someone who can stand his ground under pressure. I love that as you can’t teach these instinctive aspects,” the West Indian legend said about Kohli, who equaled his record of the fastest to reach 5000 runs in ODIs.

 

If consistency has to be a metric, the effortless manner in which Kohli has repeatedly gone about accumulating runs, makes him stand out from the rest of the lot.

 

Mohammed Shami made a dream Test debut, reminding us of Javagal Srinath in his prime. Along with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, he has given Team India hopes of a potent attack that can take wickets, both with the new and the old ball.

 

There are pertinent questions that need to be answered for us to believe that the post-Tendulkar era would be as wonderful as the era preceding it.

 

Firstly, most of these victories have come about in known conditions. Barring the tri-series in the West Indies and the one-day series against Zimbabwe, it’d be hard to point out one such competition where the conditions weren’t favoring the Men in Blue. Even if you take the Champions Trophy in England as a case in point, the pitches played nothing like they did when India toured England in 2011. They were low, at times on the slower side and were consistently supporting spin. Not discrediting the way Indian batsmen went about with their job, but the conditions hugely favored them during the Champions Trophy in 2013. For any team to dream about dominating world cricket like the West Indies of the 80s or Australia in the early 2000s did, it’s imperative to overcome challenging overseas conditions —in case of India that would be the seaming conditions in England or the tracks in Australia and South Africa that aids pace and bounce. The big test will come when the team encounters bouncy pitches like the one at Kingsmead and Perth, where they will be playing a couple of their World Cup games in 2015. Similarly, Rohit and Dhawan’s real test will be when they face the likes of Dale Steyn and Mitchell Johnson firing away at their ribcage at nearly 90+ ninety miles per hour.

 

Playing and championing alien conditions is something that Indian cricketers did very well in the 2000s, which set a higher standard for the current lot. The team batted first on a green top at Leeds (2002) and won, it also went onto repeat such acts under trying circumstances in Johannesburg (2006), Trent Bridge (2007), Perth (2007) and Durban (2010), to name a few. But back then, the middle order was very different than what it is today. There were players who had reached their cricketing peak by playing some of the best bowlers of their generation like Glenn McGrath, Wasim Akram, Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and Courtney Walsh.

 

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has done well to ‘A’ team tours to England, West Indies, Australia and South Africa in a bid to acclimatise the next generation of Indian players to test their skills in hostile conditions. If one remembers clearly, Abhinav Mukund was a runaway success during the 2010 India-A team tour to England during the summers.

 

India’s bench strength in Tests and ODIs seem less rosy. With the retirements of Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Tendulkar and the diminishing form of seniors like Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, Indian cricket has landed up in a situation where Ambati Rayadu gets a ticket to South Africa without having done anything exceptional playing in whites for his state. If one does consider First-Class record as a criteria for selection into the Indian Test team, the Ranji records over the last two years doesn’t pop up a single name that generates enough buzz to warrant a place in the national team on the strength of sheer numbers. It’s either old warhorses like Wasim Jaffer, Amol Mazumdar and Subramaniam Badrinath or lesser knowns like Jiwanjot Singh, Robin Bist and Aditya Tare.

 

When it comes to ODIs, there hangs a question mark on how well Ravindra Jadeja and Suresh Raina can perform in the 2015 World Cup Down Under. And with the World Cup being a little more than a year away, if a replacement has to be found for whatever reasons, it would mean going to Australia with limited experience.  In the lead-up to the 2011 World Cup, Dhoni had insisted on having a pool of 20 cricketers who have played at least 50 games; it’s hard to identify a similar pool currently.

 

The bowling looks slightly better with a leaner albeit older Zaheer Khan back, and with Shami, Bhuvneshwar, Jaydev Unadkat, Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma, Pragyan Ojha, Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra around. Ishant Sharma continues to hover around the Indian set-up, while the domestic circuit has promising names like Ishwar Pandey, Sandeep Sharma and Rishi Dhawan.

 

Finally, the question of leadership is most critical keeping in mind the future of Indian cricket. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has had a lot on his plate — batting, keeping and captaining, and in all three formats of the game. Squatting for days together with a dodgy back, taped fingers, ageing muscles and an enormously hectic cricket schedule, Dhoni’s job is arguably the most taxing in contemporary cricket, especially given the enormous pressure on him subjected by volatile Indian cricket fans who lose no time in lampooning the cricketers at the first hint of failure. God forbid, should Dhoni crash out before 2015, leadership could be a huge issue given the fact that all the seniors have either retired, are out of favour or don’t look a certainty. The mantle, in that unfortunate scenario, is likely to fall on Kohli. And that would mean burdening the best and most consistent batsman in the side with a new job at a critical juncture.

 

There’s a burning hope that 10 years down the line, the fan who left the stadium after Tendulkar got out in his farewell Test, deeply regrets missing out on watching Pujara-Kohli bat live that day.

 

All said and done, the Generation Next of Team India does given enough room for optimism — guarded optimism, if one may add.

 

(Ritwik Mallik, 20, has three widely popular novels to his credit. When not busy writing, he enjoys reading biographies, autobiographies and other non-fiction. A movie buff and a cricket addict, he occasionally debates and enjoys public speaking. He is currently pursuing his under-graduate studies at the University of Delhi and is the founder of an online magazine. His Twitter handle is @ritwik93)