When the opening day of the India v England series gets under way at Ahmedabad on Thursday morning, there will be much more at stake for the hosts than the fate of this particular series.
India will be led by a captain who has retained his position despite presiding over our worst trot in Tests overseas in nearly half a century (we lost 0-4 in England, and by the same margin in Australia).
It will rely on two openers – Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir – who, if statistics are anything to go by, are in decline. With Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman gone, only Sachin Tendulkar remains of the famed Fab Four. The middle order is new: Chiteshwar Pujara is trying to establish his credentials; Virat Kohli, while having been spectacular in his brief international career, is still young in Test cricket; and Yuvraj Singh, a clean hitter and a sweet timer of the ball, once seen to be not dependable enough in Test cricket, is trying to make a fairy tale comeback. The bowling spearhead, Zaheer Khan, is blunted by injury; there is doubt if he has it in him to last a full Test series. And while Ravinchandran Ashwin has a tremendous strike rate at home, most of his wickets have come against the world’s worst two Test sides – New Zealand and the West Indies.
So is it all bad news? No. Certainly it is hard to imagine a captain surviving the ignominious performance of the past year. (Andrew Strauss, who had led England to the world’s top spot in Test cricket, quit a few months ago after his team lost to South Africa and surrendered the No 1 position.) MS Dhoni has an opportunity that few captains would have been offered; he can make the most of it. Moreover, it is from the precariousness and uncertainty of such troubling times that true grit is born, that a team clicks into place and hits its stride, the whole becoming greater than the sum of the parts. Now is the time for India to redeem itself.
A sterner test beckons when the team travels to South Africa next year.