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With proper planning, India can ensure that the momentum gained by winning the World Twenty20 takes them a long way
September 25, 2007
From no-hopers to world champions - all it took was two weeks for India to traverse the journey. A new captain, a young team, and lack of experience in this format were all touted as reasons why India could not win, but these were weaknesses only on paper; out on the field, each of these turned out to be strengths: Mahendra Singh Dhoni was vibrant and positive in the field, backing his hunches at key moments; the young team added oodles of energy to fielding, while the lack of experience in playing this game freed them of excess baggage and allowed them to learn quickly and formulate customised strategies which they believed would work for them: a prime example was the decision to bat first, even as most experts suggested chasing was the way to go.
Even more than the actual results perhaps, what was so refreshingly different was the manner in which they played the game. There was a fearlessness to their approach which can only come from self-belief; there were clear signs that they were enjoying the game and each other's successes.
That the team was missing at least four first-choice players - the three batting superstars and Zaheer Khan - makes this triumph all the more remarkable. The team has come in for high praise from every quarter, and deserves every bit of it. The question is: what next? Will this remain an isolated, one-off tournament success triggered by a series of inspirational performances, or will it actually cue off a long-term and sustained level of excellence for the team. The cynical view is to go with the former, but given some of the ingredients in the mix, this is an excellent opportunity to take this as the launching pad for something big.
For inspiration, the Indians only need to look back at the World Cup-winning Australian side from 1987. Few gave Allan Border and his team any chance either, but that tournament allowed him to identify a few players who would form the core of the Australian side for the next decade. It also put in place a culture of high performance, where the benchmarks were so difficult, and yet attained so regularly, that excellence became a habit which was then passed on from generation to generation.
With the Indians, that has seldom been the case. Sourav Ganguly's team had an outstanding run between 2002 and 2004, but suddenly it collapsed after the win in Pakistan - with several players losing form or getting overconfident - and several gains from that period were lost.
This time, it needs to be different. With the average age of the squad just 25 - and eight who are less than 24 - it's just the opportune moment to plan a line of succession so that, when the batting superstars aren't around, the transition isn't unnecessarily painful.
One player who now needs to be given as much international exposure as possible is Rohit Sharma. His game is grounded on a good technique, and yet he can shift from defensive to attack in a trice. Add his unflappable temperament, and he looks like a player who can successfully play all types of international matches. He deserves further international exposure during the home season, so that he leads the accession to the batting spots that will, sooner or later - be vacated by Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid.
Gautam Gambhir has been a fringe player for a while now, but here he elevated himself to the role of a senior batsman, playing responsibly without losing his flair. Moreover, both Rohit and Gambhir are good in the field - a prerequisite in the modern game.
Irfan Pathan's glorious comeback makes the allrounder's spot a viable option once again, while RP Singh and Sreesanth fill up the fast bowlers' slots well. Add some of the others who have been on the fringes but couldn't make it to this squad, and it's clear that there's a healthy competition for places in the XI, which can only be a good thing. It's probably time to look beyond Ajit Agarkar now, and the excuse can no longer be that the replacements aren't available.
In every sport, consistency is the key - by winning the World Twenty20, the Indians haven't become the best team in the world. Australia still occupy that mantle, and rightly so. What the Indians have shown, though, is that they have the skill and the hunger to mix it with the best. The challenge now is to maintain that hunger and drive season after season. India have got the momentum going their way with this superb title triumph. With proper planning, they can ensure that this momentum takes them a long way.
Can India keep up the winning momentum post-World Twenty20?
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