By R. Mohan
If Super Sunday was the best day in a long time for Indian cricket, the news on Tuesday that South Africa had climbed to the number one slot in all three formats of the game – the first ever time that a team has done this - showed how much remains to be done if India truly aspires for that kind of distinction.
The victory Down Under in the junior World Cup does, however, suggest that Indian cricket has the talent to face the future confidently while a win over New Zealand in Hyderabad proved that Team India will remain very hard to down in home conditions.
The cricket of the seniors is somewhat one-dimensional in the sense that the best team performances keep coming at home. The juniors made a fantastic exception to the general rule about Indian teams performing best in slow pitch conditions in Asia by winning the Under-19 World Cup in Australia’s backyard where pace and bounce was on hand for the quicks while the sporting nature of the pitches held out something for the spinners too. To prepare such obviously precocious talent in the juniors to attempt world dominance at the senior level is a huge challenge.
BCCI must be doing some things right in preparing its teams as the showing of the juniors so clearly demonstrates.
The problem with the seniors is things don’t have to do so much with preparation as performance. While it is fine to rejoice in a rare good win in well under four days in a match also hit by the weather, the fact remains that victory came in conditions in which Indian spinners have a psychological hold on visitors like the Kiwis who are brave rather than super-competent performers in India. This is not to belittle Ravichandran Ashwin’s good show in which the variety at his command in his slower through the air style stood out.
What the juniors achieved earlier in the day in the southern hemisphere was the far greater of the two performances. In three wins in the last four outings in the last six years the juniors have hogged the limelight.
It’s been easy enough for the selectors to pick those who had excelled at the Under-19 World Cup level and promote them because they had done so well in trying circumstances thereby revealing that they have more to them than just raw talent. To perform under pressure is to satisfy the ultimate criterion, which is what the likes of Virat Kohli did in the past and which Unmukt Chand did now.
The people in charge of running English cricket always used to wonder how India judges and picks its talent for international cricket since so little attention seems to be paid to performances in national cricket. We used to take delight in pointing out that the junior World Cup represents the best testing ground since it shows how the young stand up to the pressures of playing in must-win situations in limited-overs matches.
When someone comes through like Kohli to sparkle at the international level he only adds to the theory that stressful match situations are a better guide to how good a player is rather than batting on shirt fronts and running up runs by the ton.
There will always be the sceptics who say that for every Kohli or Chand there are two that fall by the wayside, unable to make as much of an impact at the senior level. They advise caution against pushing the likes of Unmukt Chand, Harmeet Singh and Baba Aparajith too soon. But isn’t it a fact that the Asians have always promoted young talent early while England errs on the side of caution?
Three wins in four outings suggest that our players are maturing far quicker and that the junior World Cup route to Team India selection needs to be sustained rather than picking players by looking at the score sheets in domestic game.
By R. Mohan