Away from this debate though, ODIs serve as feverish testing grounds for selectors of every cricketing nation. Twenty20 as a format is too short and too belligerent to be a true test for any cricketer. At best it can tell you about his hitting prowess or the ability to bowl yorkers. With a slightly longer period of play, one-day cricket often becomes a pointer towards the players' acumen.
A youngster making his Test debut, before playing any international limited-overs cricket, is a rarity nowadays, and comes forth in extreme circumstances, like one pertaining to Ashton Agar in the current Ashes series. Instead, young players are first given their caps in the T20I or ODI arena, provided a taste of the cut-throat international competition and then gradually given the step-up to the five-day game. This policy has been put to use for long in Indian cricket and it can be rightfully asserted that ODIs played in the last six months have served Sandeep Patil and his merry bunch very well.
The clouds of transition were casting a long, dark shadow after the loss to England. And the future fixtures weren't going to be easy, with Pakistan knocking on the door immediately. One of the pointers from the 2-1 defeat was the need to cultivate a new bowling attack, replete with new pacers and a support spinner for R Ashwin. The cold, wintery conditions in which the Pakistan ODIs were played allowed the selectors to test Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami. While the former has since gone on to become India's treasured bowler in the ensuing seven months, the latter too has impressed that he is a dependable bench option.
The Champions Trophy was a particular high point for Bhuvneshwar, in the way he was given the seniority role despite the presence of Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma. With R Ashwin recovering his mojo in the Australia series and Ravindra Jadeja making international cricket look like child's play, the first string attack looks in decent shape, especially in helpful conditions. Add a touch of experience, say Praveen Kumar bowling in tandem with Bhuvneshwar, or even the miraculous return of Zaheer Khan until 2015, and it makes for a potent combination.
Alternately, the ODI series against England allowed for the ultimate experiment. Rohit Sharma made his way to the opening slot and his run of scores has been pleasing since. Till the turn of this year, in 86 ODIs, he had scored 1978 runs at 30.43 (two hundreds and twelve fifties). Since then, in 16 matches, he has scored 580 runs at 41.42 (six fifties). Now, Rohit sparks a lot of debate, both in the media and among fans alike. But no one can deny that this has been a step-up for him, even though the big hundreds are missing.
Furthermore, it is also true that many would have liked Cheteshwar Pujara to be given a run in his place, or a similar long-rope to be extended to Ajinkya Rahane. But circumstances played against them, somewhat. Firstly, Rohit scored runs at the first chance he was given to open and you couldn't possibly deny him thereafter. Secondly, Shikhar Dhawan arrived on the scene and blitzed everything in his path. Even so, both Rahane and Pujara remain firmly entrenched in the selectors' plans and given the amount of cricket played by India, they will get a longer run-in, sooner or later. (Something similar can be said about Parvez Rasool, whose omission in Zimbabwe created an unnecessary ruckus.)
The underlying point about India's ODI batting is that it looks way more secure than it has in the two-plus seasons since the 2011 World Cup win. Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina pulverize attacks in batting-friendly conditions and MS Dhoni provides finishing touches at will. Maybe an extra touch of experience in the form of Gautam Gambhir or Yuvraj Singh could be added up, keeping the 2015 World Cup in mind. Yet, there is no denying the delicate balance of youth gaining experience by playing umpteen matches, thus stabilizing performance.
Discount the Zimbabwe series for a second. The Champions Trophy was a great eye-opener and then the tri-series in the West Indies, when the Indian team came back from the dead to win the whole thing. Now, in South Africa, posing as the A team, the likes of Dhawan, Rohit, Pujara, Raina, Rahane, Dinesh Karthik, Ambati Rayudu and Murali Vijay are tearing apart what is technically the second-choice bowling attack for Australia and South Africa.
Yes, they are batting on feather-beds. But ODIs around the world essentially are played on such wickets. During the Champions Trophy, the ball moved around only when there was sufficient cloud-cover. In Australia, it is much the same. They even use drop-in pitches for most ODI venues which are baked hard that a batsman could easily hit through the line.
The bigger point of note, and importance, is this. This batting order, missing Kohli and Dhoni mind you, has an average age of 26 years (leaving out Stuart Binny). And it is often said that Indian cricket's traditional prowess is its batting. Going by that logic, India look set for the next four to six years, at the very least.
First Published: August 19, 2013, 9:45 AM IST