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Uplifters of the India-NZ series

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Ravichandran_Ashwin_India_cricketEven as I start penning this, Ashwin has brought up his best Test bowling figures till date – 13 wickets for 140 runs. India has completed a brown-wash of the Kiwis in Indore – 3-0.

There are lessons to be learnt and there are things to cheer. This is always so when analyzing or introspecting on events of the past. The former is done to be able to keep improving while the latter is meant to make sure one is convinced about changes that may have been implemented and succeeded as a result. The latter, it must be said, is certainly not meant to rest one’s laurels and become complacent.

There were not many lessons to be learnt in this India-NZ series. But there were plenty of things to cheer (for a certain stripe of fan). Starting off: Kohli managed to get India back to the numero uno position at the Eden Gardens, after a brief disappointing spell as the ‘numero dos good neighbour’. Three Test wins in a row against the Kiwis cements Kohli’s position as the captain of the team.

 

It was heartening, earlier on, to read about Anil Kumble coming out strongly in support of Cheteshwar Pujara when the media seemed to show that it never learns from past mistakes. Rahul Dravid was criticized time and again during his playing days by people who watched cricket for fireworks, instead of following it as a gentleman’s game characterised by techniques and rules. Today, we all know the value of Dravid, to his team and to cricket connoisseurs.  

Kumble was Dravid’s teammate then, and he knows very well that leaders and mentors have to stand solidly beside and behind such misunderstood talents. Pujara repaid the faith with three solid half-centuries, a 40-odd score and an unbeaten century, which was the icing on the cake.

KL Rahul has blossomed over time to entrench himself up there in the batting order – a good blend of the cautious Dravid and the rambunctious Sehwag, if I may say so myself. I wouldn’t worry much about the up-and-down Dhawan; just as one swallow does not a summer make, one snowfall does not characterize a winter.

Of course, I must say that I and some coeval followers of the game were surprised by the recall of Gambhir. Perhaps a youngster could have been groomed, as it was home soil after all and the perfect opportunity to allow a budding talent to make his debut?   

Perhaps this was an error in judgement similar to the one when Parveez Rasool from Jammu and Kashmir was not given a chance to play in the final game even after India had already won the ODI series against Zimbabwe. Was it a case of ‘friends and favours’? We never know. GG scored a half-century, and of course I have nothing against him, as he has served India and the gentleman’s game admirably (though not always as a gentleman, I must say).

It is interesting to note that Kohli started off the Caribbean tour earlier with a double century, and then slumped, hit rock bottom and raised himself with a 40-odd followed by another double hundred. And it’s a fitting reward for the stunning 10-1 record (Test wins-Test losses) since he permanently took over as captain from MS Dhoni in Sydney. Thereafter, the series against Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand were wrapped up in style, with Ashwin playing a stellar role in these series victories.

 

Talking of double hundreds, these do a lot of good to a player’s confidence, strengthening his belief in his abilities to stay on and convert 50s to 100s and 100s to 200s. And so I feel very sorry for Ajinkya Rahane. If anyone deserved a double hundred, it was Ajinkya. Kudos to him for all he has achieved thus far for India in Test cricket. A double hundred must come soon, perhaps against the Poms later this year. Pujara and Rahane have taken the sting out of Dravid’s absence. Jammy himself would be very happy to see two ‘new Walls in the making, for the longer haul’.   

How well has Saha stepped into Dhoni’s shoes! Even if we lose out top order for under 100 runs on the board, we know now that Saha and Ashwin can salvage something out of the ruins. I feel pleased as punch for Rohit Sharma, who has made a glorious comeback to the true version of cricket, competence in which was eluding his grasp.

I have already dedicated several bits-and-bytes to Ashwin in an earlier article. The more you write about him, the more you fall short of words and expressions. Kumble’s effect, of course, as the Tamil Nadu offie acknowledged in the West Indies when he got his first ‘5-for’ on foreign soil. It’s still early days, but considering that offies are blessed with longevity, compared to quicks and leggies, perhaps he would have set more milestones in mind for himself, having achieved the milestone of 200 Test wickets during the NZ-series. Daunting? Perhaps not (if he keeps bagging bagfuls of wickets both on home soil and abroad).

All-rounders are treasures who must be prized and protected. We have two now, Ashwin and Jadeja, who have been working left shoulder to right shoulder and I would like to see them carry on for the longer haul. Fast bowling was not as necessary on home soil as it was in the West Indies but hats off to the stoic Bhuvi and the persevering Shami for their 14 wickets. I would request them to stay clear of injuries.

Against 5 out of 6 Test playing nations thus far, Kohli has either drawn or won the series where he has led India. The Poms are touring soon. The Bangladeshis will follow next year and then the Aussies will visit… after three years, captain Kohli can seek revenge for the loss in his first match as (interim) captain.

 

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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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