From an Indian viewpoint there was one inescapable conclusion driven home by events in the ICC Champions Trophy. From being just one of half a dozen challengers for the title, India have emerged as strong contenders for the World Cup.
An expected victory over Zimbabwe, an emphatic win over England, a triumph over South Africa that seemed straight out of fiction books and two finals against the in-form hosts in which they more than held their own was the sum total of India's performances in the justconcluded tournament. And all this can mean only one thing. This Indian team is capable of defeating any opposition.
Nearly 20 years ago, when the Indians were considered near novices in the intricate art of the one-day game, a team under Kapil Dev pulled off a remarkable victory over the West Indies in Berbice. This should have set off warning signals for other teams. But they did not heed the signal and the whole cricketing world is aware of what happened at Lord's some three months later.
To my mind, the Indians' showing in Colombo should send out a similar warning to the other competing sides. Not that the Indians are novices anymore in the limited overs game but there is this tendency to believe that however good the side is, it is not a World Cup winning outfit.
I will readily admit that that I was one of those a bit cynical of their chances on the eve of the Champions Trophy. The plus point of the Indian team - the batting - was really strong but with continuing doubts over the bowling and with the fielding not measuring up to international standards even though the likes of Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif have raised the level considerably, a semifinal spot was the most I would have bargained for. But by going considerably further, the Indian team has been able to convert even a skeptic like me. I now sincerely believe that India has as much a chance of winning the World Cup as Australia, South Africa, Pakistan or Sri Lanka.
Yes, I know the impressive showing was achieved in sub-continental conditions whereas the pitches in South Africa could well be awkwardly pacy and bouncy. I am also aware of India's rather disappointing record in that country. But there was something very positive and refreshing about the Indian performance in Sri Lanka that makes me feel quite optimistic about their chances in the mega event. And one must not forget that this came hot on the heels of the NatWest triumph in England, achieved against all odds.
Of course, there are areas to be sorted out and I mentioned the bowling and fielding as obvious ones. But these are not insurmountable problems that cannot be tackled and I am confident that Ganguly and coach John Wright, who I don't think has received enough credit for the Indians' improved showing of late, are already on the job.
Fortunately there are still over four months before the start of the World Cup and India has a number of international engagements till then. Hopefully, this will help in sorting out the grey areas. But in this context, it is imperative that the selectors and the team management look ahead instead of looking back. This is with particular reference to the recall of Javagal Srinath.
Such retrograde steps are not the kind that should be taken at this juncture. The Indian team is an ideal blend of youth and experience. In Kaif, Yuvraj, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan the youth is represented in all its bloom. The experience is provided by Ganguly, Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Kumble. Harbhajan and Agarkar by themselves represent a combination of youth and experience.
If at all replacements and fringe players are needed, there are any number of talented youngsters around. There is no need to put the clock back and recall players who are in their mid-thirties and already over the hill. Let the rather disastrous experiment with Srinath in the ICC Champions Trophy be a reminder to selectors in future to always look ahead and not back.
As for the Champions Trophy, the Indians can take credit for providing some of the best cricket seen in the tournament. Sehwag was verily the player of the competition and his pyrotechnics have taken a lot of pressure off Tendulkar. Let there be no further talk of Tendulkar going back to open the innings.
With Sehwag around at the top and with he and Ganguly clicking, No 3 or 4 would seem to be the right spot for Tendulkar, who can then capitalise on a breezy start or steady the innings in case the Indians lose an early wicket. Yuvraj and Kaif should stay where they are for at No 6 and 7 they will be needed to give the scoring a fillip in the slog overs while Dravid can perform his role admirably in the middle order.
What Wright, Leipus and company will have to do over the next few months is to work on the running between wickets and physical fitness and make the players mentally strong for the World Cup. There is little doubt that the Indian team is peaking right now and nothing should be done to cloud the atmosphere. In this regard, it is also hoped that a quick and permanent solution is found to the contracts controversy that is still hanging fire.