For all the debate about Test cricket losing its appeal, there’s something about it because of which the great players prefer to channel all their energies into the more gruelling form of the game.
After a point in their careers, Sachin Tendulkar, the most successful ODI batsman of all time, and bowling legend Shane Warne, were among the ones to lose the appetite for the 50-over games and decided to focus on the longer format.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohammed Shami, two of India’s best bowlers, have been rested for the first three games of the one-day series against New Zealand, a decision that underlines where the team’s as well as the duo’s priorities lie.
Like their senior player, Tendulkar, they will be ready for the big ODI tournaments but the bilateral series may not hold much appeal for these strike bowlers.
Along with the two, limited overs skipper MS Dhoni will also be without Ravindra Jadeja for the first three games. The troika had wreaked havoc in the Kiwi ranks, helping India to a clean sweep in the Tests.
The decision to go without their frontline bowlers, will work both ways for the home team. While the Indian team will be letting go of the psychological advantage gained over the Kiwi batsmen, the Indian think-tank are looking at the larger picture of keeping their bowlers fresh for the long season ahead. Equally importantly, it will be an opportunity for the coaches and selectors to ready their backup attack.
While India’s batting is loaded with quality and experience for all formats, the same cannot be said about their bowling. At the moment, it is heavily reliant on Ashwin and Shami.
Hence, offspinner Jayant Yadav’s performance in the one-day series will be keenly watched. Till now, Harbhajan Singh was seen as a readymade option for Ashwin, but the think-tank will be keen to have a younger talent at its disposal. Yadav has got the look-in largely due to his performances for India A in Australia. Apart from the Haryana offie, at Dhoni’s disposal in the spin attack will be leggie Amit Mishra and left-armer Axar Patel.
The success of Virat Kohli also increases Dhoni’s challenge. Like in batting where living up to the legacy of the Fab Five was seen as a huge challenge, succeeding Dhoni, the most successful Indian captain, was expected to be a tough task. But Kohli has caught the imagination of the cricket world with his style of leadership, giving a new flavour to the captaincy - dynamic and aggressive, and openly challenging the opposition to play better cricket than his team.
Dhoni’s best years were till the 2011 World Cup, when he showed a natural instinct to take the right calls in decisive situations and a calm head under pressure. At the start of this year, there were glimpses of his fine cricketing acumen on show, and it showed in the games in Australia, Bangladesh and then the T20 World Cup. But, one striking difference was in the way he handled Ashwin and in the way Kohli has. Even though we are talking about different formats, Ashwin is clearly bowling with much more confidence for Kohli. It will be interesting to see, if Dhoni can again inspire his troops like in his hey days.
After Kohli has led the whitewash in Tests, in the ODIs too it won’t be just about winning but doing so in style.