January 15, 2010

Batting riches in India's bank

The likes of Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Manish Pandey and Cheteshwar Pujara make India's future look bright

Eventually the conditions triumphed in Dhaka, and while that cannot be good for cricket, one must add a little footnote about the teams that failed to overcome them and lost an opportunity to showcase their pedigree. When a team ranked second on the ICC rankings cannot put up much up of a fight against a team ranked seventh, it either means that cricket is in good health or that teams are incapable of mastering conditions to win. On that count, India should be disappointed with their performance in the last couple of weeks. Teams with ambition flex their muscles from time to time and make strong statements. India didn't. Maybe India v Sri Lanka is becoming a bit like an inter-class match: so often do the two teams see and play each other.

The bowlers would seem to be the culprits, and admittedly that part of the team looks the weaker sibling. Zaheer Khan showed only glimpses of returning to his best; Sreesanth needs the ball to swing, because when the ball travels in straight lines to the batsman, he is quite easy to read; and while Ashish Nehra bowled some first spells with zest, he does have an extraordinary ability to find himself in the thick of it all when things are going wrong. I suspect the selectors will have an eye on young Abhimanyu Mithun from Bengaluru, but there is a tall lad from Delhi and a swing bowler from Vadodara who would deliver greater returns if they could be nudged back to where they were.

Twice India batted first and each time the batsmen fell short. India, like any side batting first, needed 300 to overcome the dew, and they came nowhere near against a Sri Lankan attack that is, at this stage, only promising. In Chanaka Welegedara, though, they have a bowler who, at least at the moment, is making up for Chaminda Vaas, and Suraj Randiv looks a good defensive bowler. True, there were positives, with Virat Kohli showing excellent temperament and Suresh Raina showing he can never be discounted, but India's batting, excellent while chasing, never really set up a game.

It would be beautiful for these young men if Rahul Dravid could be persuaded to lead this team once in a while, for they can have no better teacher in the modern game than him

Three times now Kohli has anchored a run-chase and looked like he belongs. He seems to like the idea of building an innings and seems quite happy to bat anywhere - all good signs. It means that Raina is probably where he is happiest, playing shots at the end. These are both young men with a lot of cricket ahead of them, as is the case with the versatile, uncomplaining Dinesh Karthik. It is not easy to play a game knowing you are filling in for someone, but Karthik seems enthusiastic and always suggests he is worth his place in the squad.

It means the path for Rohit Sharma is muddled a bit, and that could be the best thing to happen to a very talented young man. He might have been better served playing the Ranji Trophy final, though, especially since it was clear that Karthik is now above him in the pecking order as a batsman. He might have been able to watch another outstanding young talent at close quarters and realised how tough it is to nail a spot in the Indian top order.

Every time I see Manish Pandey, I see another dimension to him. Opening in the IPL, playing solidly in the middle order in the Ranji Trophy, and at all times being brilliant in the field. I am going to enjoy the next few years watching Kohli, Raina, Sharma, Pandey and Cheteshwar Pujara. Throw into that list Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan and, if you like to see good batting, you have reason to smile.

In fact, while on this topic, how about this A side to tour South Africa, Australia and, in a few months, England. Vijay, Rahane, Sharma, Kohli, Pujara, Pandey, Wriddhiman Saha, Mithun, Ashok Dinda, Sudeep Tyagi, Iqbal Abdulla, Piyush Chawla, Aushik Srinivas, and Irfan Pathan as captain. In fact, many years ago we used to have an Indian Colts team led by a certain senior player; it would be beautiful for these young men if Rahul Dravid could be persuaded to lead this team once in a while, for they can have no better teacher in the modern game than him.

Meanwhile, here is a thought to leave you with. Without three of the greatest players in their history, Vaas, Murali and Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka are moving on. There is much to admire in the men who lead our little neighbours in the south.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer