The first question Duncan Fletcher was asked was about his wards playing too much cricket; but the new India coach was happy to focus more on how to galvanise the young bunch under his command in West Indies.
India’s build-up to the Caribbean tour has been blighted by injuries and players pulling out to rest. The IPL has been rightly blamed for allowing the players little time to rest, especially after the physically and emotionally taxing World Cup campaign. However, the fact that the West Indies are a pale shadow of their once formidable self has not played a small role in the seniors making their decisions.
That has provided a perfect opportunity for the youngsters. Stand-in skipper Suresh Raina lost the only previous series he led, in Zimbabwe, but his focus is as much on cementing his place as a middle-order batsman. With Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman as well as the ever-improving Sachin Tendulkar moving closer to retirement, this series could well be the start of a transformation era.
Raina acknowledged that the players, although fatigued due to non-stop cricket, will need no extra motivation. “I have to live up to expectations. The players have done well in the IPL and first class cricket. They really want to do well for India,” he said.
Although many in the limited overs squad will push for a more regular place in the India set-up, the middle-order batsmen will try extra hard as they jockey to fill vacancies that can arise. Raina’s Test entry last year began with a ton on debut in Sri Lanka but his dislike for the short stuff saw him go out. His first stint ended with India’s loss at Centurion, where the left-hander, expecting short stuff, steered catches against deliveries pitched up. But he will have the advantage of getting tips from Fletcher, who was also batted left-handed.
Although unlike Raina, Rohit Sharma has not been named in the Test squad, he has shown determination to overcome poor form and injury that had blighted his hopes of making it to the World Cup squad. Sharma will be key to India’s strong showing in the ODIs, and one never knows when the door opens for a place in the Test set-up.