The Test series is over. But a tougher test awaits Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s boys as over the next three weeks in the land of archaeological significance.
The tri-nation series that features India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand will present an opportunity to test the bench strength ahead of next year’s World Cup, which will start in the sub-continent in just over six months.
During their build-up to the show-piece event, the last thing India want is a demoralised bunch.
In that regard, Saturday’s astounding victory in the third Test in Colombo, which helped the visitors level the three-Test series, would have done wonders to the confidence of the Men in Blue.
However, the squad for the tri-series, where each side will play the other two teams twice in the league stage, is very different from that for the Test series.
While nine of the 16-squad members, including all the veterans, have returned home, they have been replaced by eight youngsters.
More importantly, the absence of four regulars - Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar - will mean the likes of Dinesh Karthik, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Abhimanyu Mithun and R Ashwin get another opportunity to knock on the selectors’ doors for a World Cup call-up.
The biggest gains from the Test series for India have been Abhimanyu Mithun and Suresh Raina, who earned India’s 261st and 262nd Test caps, respectively. Though Raina has almost a hundred ODIs under his belt, the fact that he justified his Test spot with a superb century on debut under pressure and then a second-innings cameo will do his confidence a world of good.
While Mithun was impressive with the ball through the series, his application with the bat came as a sweet surprise. Though the rookie was unfortunate not to get as many wickets as he deserved, the Bangalorean surely showed that he has it in him to stay at the highest level.
The tri-series could also be Ishant Sharma’s last opportunity to stay in contention for a World Cup spot. The Delhi speedster, who has of late been considered only for the longest version, bowled well in patches in Tests but is likely to be low on confidence.
But both bowlers who will complete for the third paceman’s slot — with Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar near-certainties- can take heart from coach Gary Kirsten’s remarks.
“The way Ishant and Mithun bowled, as really young fast bowlers, was fantastic. They didn’t necessarily get all the rewards they would have liked, but they really put a massive effort,” said Kirsten as India started preparing for Tuesday’s tournament opener against the Kiwis.
With India slated to play at least 17 ODIs before the showpiece event, the next three weeks could well be more vital than last month’s Asia Cup.
On August 28 we will know whether the youngsters are ready fill in to the big boots of their seniors.