The popularity of a sports team depends to a great extent by the way it plays its respective game. The flair and skill of the Brazilian football side or the West Indian cricket team of yore are prime examples of it. The joy of seeing sportsmen exhibiting their sheer artistry is much more than just the final outcome of a win or loss. The ongoing football World Cup brought disappointment to millions of viewers, not because Argentina and Portugal lost, but because they were deprived of seeing a bit more magic from the boots of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But the wonderful aspect of a team game is that, although individuals are important, the result finally depends upon the team’s holistic performance.
India, in cricket, has had many great performers, some being the very best in the world. Unfortunately, they were all part of a side that did not have the necessary firepower in all the areas of the game. But the present Indian cricket team is different. A well-balanced outfit with a pool of young talented cricketers, this team could establish itself as one of the best sides ever to play the game.
The Australian sides under Don Bradman, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting and the great West Indian side led by Clive Lloyd were classic examples of cricket teams looking unconquerable. The present Indian side has the ingredients to be molded into such a unit.
The Indian team boasts of a batting line-up that is a delight for any cricket lover.
All the four top order batsmen -- Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli -- are in sublime form. Their innovative strokeplay and immense confidence have made them a treat to watch. The top four, along with Cheteshwar Pujara, Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane, present a batting order that could prove lethal in all the formats of the game. The likes of Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the hard-hitting all-rounder Hardik Pandya only add to the strength.
India has always had some of the world’s best spinners – be it the famous quartet of the 70’s or the Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh combo thereafter. The way Chinaman and googly bowler Kuldeep Yadav is presently mesmerising batsmen reminds one of those legendry tweakers. He dismissed England’s best batsman, Joe Root, with a delightful delivery in the first T20 international on Tuesday after foxing Jonny Bairstow with a googly. Both the batsmen were brilliantly stumped by the evergreen Dhoni. His presence in the team is a boon, not only for the youngsters, but also for captain Kohli. Dhoni has been the most successful captain for India and for Kohli to have him by his side must be comforting.
The pace attack has never been so good. India has two genuine speedsters in Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma. Add to that the swing bowling of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and a host of other young talented bowlers, and you have a well-armed fast bowling unit.
India has never been blessed with such a well-rounded side in all these years. The most difficult part is selecting the playing eleven, as there is an option available for every place in the team. This may seem to be a good problem to have, but to be successful a consistent side of core individuals is essential in the long run. This, therefore, becomes a major issue and challenge for the selectors, not only for the future, but also when they sit to select the Test side to play England now.
Cricket has never been so competitive for the cricketers and to see the camaraderie and closeness among them is truly pleasing. This is why the present Indian side can transform itself into a champion team.
The ongoing tour of England is the 19th visit by an Indian side. There have been 3 series wins in the last 86 years and although India did win a Test match at Lords in 2014, they were badly beaten 3-1 in the 5-match Test series. The humiliation and criticism that emanated from that defeat is still rankling in the minds of many of the senior Indian cricketers who were part of the team then. The person most affected has been the present captain Kohli. The master swing bowler from England, James Anderson, exposed his techniques in the last tour.
Since then, Kohli has risen to being acclaimed as one of the best batsmen in the world and once he retires, he may be classified as an all-time great. Success in this England tour is very important for him, as he needs to lay to rest the monkey of a failure off his back. The revengeful and aggressive attitude of the captain, one feels, will be the way this Indian side will play their cricket in England this time.
The three T20 internationals and the ODI matches against England should in most probability go in favour of India, but the real challenge will be in the Test matches when the red Duke ball comes into play. The Pataudi Trophy, that they play for, needs to be won by India and for that they need to play like they are playing present. They must be “Tigers on the field.”
(The writer is a former India cricketer)