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Tests done with, it is time to shift focus

cricket Updated: Oct 16, 2010 00:18 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
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Move over masters, take a back seat elder statesman. Thank you for all the memories from the most absorbing and event-filled 10 days of cricket that was the 2-0 Test sweep of Australia, but it's now time for the one-day internationals.

The fact that India and Australia took part in such an intense Test clash in the build-up to a World Cup is remarkable in itself. Typically, the year before a World Cup is spent fine-tuning the 50-over team, identifying a core group and suitable stand-by options for those men. But, given that India only rose to the giddy heights of No. 1 in the recent past, you can forgive the Board's sudden enthusiasm for the longest version, and their decision to convert an ODI sojourn to Tests. Not that the fans are complaining.

But now it's time to shift focus, and even if the ODI series is only three matches, it's an important passage in what could turn out to be a crucial year. After all, the matches will be played at Kochi, Visakhapatnam and Goa, all centres where battling the conditions will be as important as matching the opposition.

The man who has the toughest job, in terms of sheer physical effort, is Mahendra Singh Dhoni. While many of India's key players have been given rest - even someone like Pragyan Ojha, who has barely figured, has been given time off - the captain, who is the fulcrum of the team, has to soldier on. One critical reason for this could be that the selectors want Dhoni to take a close look at some of the youngsters in the mix, with an eye on the World Cup.

Certainly statistics and scorecards tell you a lot, but it is in the heat of battle, against a never-say-die opposition like Australia, that the think-tank will learn about the temperament of youngsters like Delhi's Shikhar Dhawan and Tamil Nadu's R Ashwin.

"Both are top teams in the world so it should make for an interesting contest. But both the teams are not featuring their best players," explained Dhoni, looking forward to the ODIs. "Australia have rested three or four top players and we too have rested seven, eight players. At the same time it is opportunity for young players and also we can have a look at the areas where we can improve."

For Australia, the key personnel sitting it out are Test skipper Ricky Ponting, left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson and all-rounder Shane Watson, who have been sent back home to rest and recuperate.

This three-match mini-series, signals the beginning of the home stretch as far as World Cup preparations are concerned for India.

After this, they have exactly 10 ODIs, five each against New Zealand and South Africa, before the World Cup at home in February. Judging by the massive reception the Commonwealth Games got in Delhi, the hype could go through the roof by the time the World Cup comes around. The team better be ready in time.