A second consecutive post on cricket.... could not resist it.. :-)
At the end of my last post, I had mentioned that the one-dayers against Pakistan will be a tough challenge for the men in blue, and if they can overcome it, they would be considered genuine contenders in the Carribean. Now that the test has been passed with flying colours (much to the surprise of even the most ardent of supporters), its time to take stock of the team and its chances with almost exactly a year left for the WC to start..
First the question: Is this team a genuine contender for the big prize next year ? Going by the performance in Pakistan (mind you, they defeated a very good side 4-1), one would have to think so.. Most importantly, the team seems to have all the ingredients that make up a good one-day side.. two good openers, one with the swashbuckling style while the other being the once young gun turned senior statesman.. followed by the skipper with his cool head.. then you have the young brigade led by Yuvraj and Kaif and followed by Raina and Dhoni.. its significant that none of these come from the cricketing superpowers of Mumbai, Delhi, Karnataka but from small towns.. and they carry the freshness, energy and fearlessness of youth to the crease.. be it Yuvraj jumping a la Rhodes and plucking the ball, Kaif with his quick steps and hitting ability or Dhoni taking 'just 8 balls' to warm up before going after the leather irrespective of the opponent bowlers and their reputation.. sure they will fail sometimes, but these represent the new Indian team..
The bowling remains one concern though.. although RP Singh and Sreesanth have shown much promise, the bowling needs to be good enough to restrict the opposition, especially when we are fielding second. Except for Pathan, the bowling does not measure up. Agarkar remains inconsistent (and I must confess that I have been a fan of his and am quite dissapointed - also why is he not sent at No 3 remains a mystery to me). In addition, we need Bhajji to get back to form.. because the wickets in the West Indies would probably be slow turners (atleast the ones in Trinidad - where we are playing our league games, and in Antigua and Guyana where the first part of the super eights is happening). Under such conditions, Bhajji would be an important part of the side. In addition, Piyush Chawla is rated highly by whoever has seen him, his progress would be interesting to watch..
The major improvement though has been in the fielding. Besides the trio of Yuvi, Kaif and Raina, we also have some decent fielders in the team - atleast there is no one who needs to be hidden.
The next test will be to see how they cope up in the Carribean in June this year.. we are lucky that we are getting to visit the West indies 8 months before the WC starts. It represents a great opportunity to get first-hand experience of the wicket and conditions and to decide what kind of team combination is likely to have the best chance of winning.. You can be sure Dravid and Chappell would be observing each minute detail on that tour..