BENCH STRENGTH COMES TO THE FORE
By:- Partab Ramchand
The inescapable conclusion to be drawn following the events of the last three months – encompassing the Test series in Australia and the just concluded series against England – is that the immediate future of Indian cricket is very bright. It’s not just because the Indian team notched up victories in the two contests; it is all about how these were achieved.
For some time now it has been acknowledged that the Indian team’s bench strength is encouraging. There are a number of talented young cricketers waiting to get into the playing eleven. But with the line-up wearing a settled look hardly any of them got an extended look-in. However, the rather bizarre circumstances because of which the rookies were pitch forked into the front lines in Australia opened the avenues for them and they took little time in proving that they were more than ready for the Test cap. With several senior players still not recovering from their injuries the youngsters got another opportunity in the series against England and again they showed that they had the skill and temperament for Test cricket.
The batting more or less was manned by the established stars. Granted that the quartet of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane did not find run scoring easy in the generally bowler friendly conditions but they are still good enough to command their places in the side. And in any case KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari are still around. Shubman Gill was the one newcomer in the line-up and despite the runs drying up on the turning tracks at home he performed admirably in Australia to show that he belongs at the top of the order.
But it is in bowling that the script is particularly upbeat. It all started in Australia. Just consider these names – Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Now substitute their names with Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini, T Natarajan, Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar. The first quintet was the established and vastly experienced bowling line-up but by the time the fourth Test commenced the second quintet were on duty and performing admirably doing their bit in shaping a remarkable victory.
It was much the same against England in that while established stars like Ishant Sharma and Ashwin were around the bowler of the series was Axar Patel who made his debut and finished with 27 wickets in three Tests. Bowlers like Kuldeep Yadav, Shahbaz Nadeem and Yuzvendra Chahal are waiting for their turn. At the moment it appears that Ravindra Jadeja an indispensable member of the side for long will find it difficult to stage a comeback underlining the bench strength of the squad.
He is not exactly one of the emerging youngsters but despite making his Test debut 2-1/2 years ago when the tour of Australia commenced, Rishabh Pant was competing for the keeper’s place with Wriddhiman Saha. He was not without his critics as far as his work behind the stumps was concerned. Now suddenly not only is he the established stumper – thanks to vast improvement as evidenced by his work against England – he is the most talked about cricketer in the land. His enterprising batting was never questioned but even by his own high standards he has excelled of late. His match turning century in the fourth Test and in particular his breath-taking reverse sweep to the boundary off James Anderson has drawn worldwide encomiums. He is only 23 and his rising graph is another indication of the upsurge in Indian cricket’s fortunes which is certified by the rise to the No 1 spot in the ICC Test rankings.
And finally, there is this player who perhaps epitomizes the rise of the younger brigade. Washington Sundar was considered a good prospect for T-20 cricket but even here he was on the periphery having represented the country in the shortest format with modest returns. Thrust because of circumstances that have now been well chronicled into the Test squad, the 21-year-old Chennai born has, overnight as it were, turned himself into an indispensable cricketer displaying the skill and the temperament of a veteran. Thanks to players like him not even the established stars can take their places for granted and that is the most encouraging scenario as far as Indian cricket is concerned.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal)