The vision is in place and the journey is on. South Africa is being mapped out as yet another stepping stone in the quest for the ultimate dream team. At least that is the impression one is left with as India begin what will probably be a tense, tough eight-week tour with five one-dayers, India's first Twenty20 international and three Tests.
Rahul Dravid said as much. “We are hopeful that the success we had in the West Indies, when we won our first Test series there for 35 years, will spark off more success. We have been playing well in Tests overseas, and we aim to win overseas consistently. We have to develop a squad that has bowlers who can take 20 wickets in all conditions, and to have batsmen who can score in all conditions. We have the confidence that we can do well here, we are looking forward to a different challenge.”
Well, given India's extremely shoddy one-day record of late, this is then probably like other processes that make little sense until they see success. The one positive though is that the Indian skipper seems quite happy with his world and maybe that mood will rub off on everyone else.
“We had a very successful run in the World Cup in 2003, when a lot of batsmen made a lot of runs. Not just at the World Cup, even otherwise, we have had batting success in South Africa. If anything, our batsmen enjoy batting on South African wickets — the ball coming on to the bat means we can play our shots. Obviously, we have to take some things into account and avoid playing certain shots, but we have a wider range of shots to choose from,” said Dravid, taking on those who believe South African wickets will be a problem for India.
For him, this country is special — his first Test ton was at the Wanderers in January 1997 — and he obviously hopes his side will eventually share his memories of Africa. “It's a lovely place to tour and play cricket,” he said. “We have spoken of the challenges of playing here, but also of enjoying ourselves and having fun. I can say from experience that my first tour here in 1996 was a great learning experience. I hope that tours like this will spark off some young fast bowlers and young batsmen.”
Meanwhile, Greg Chappell, looking quite at peace, said he was quite happy with India's young pace attack but wouldn't commit on whether they were going head to head with South Africa, who are vastly more experienced in their pace department. “I don't know if it will be a case of fighting fire with fire,” said Chappell. “We will try and get the best combination possible in the bowling attack. We have tried to build some depth and I think we have the capability to do well, whatever the conditions.”
He said they realised that when they played outside India, they needed pace. “We need some tall bowlers, we need people who can swing the ball. We have got most of the contingencies cleared. The young fast bowlers did very well in the West Indies, when we won our first series in 35 years. If conditions are what we expect them to be, I am sure our pace attack will rise to the occasion.”
But a lot will probably depend on another man, not so young but immensely successful. Anil Kumble is back and his contribution could be immense. “He is a world-class competitor and has been very successful,” said Chappell. “In recent times, he hasn't played as much one-day cricket not merely because we wanted to look after him and have him ready to play Test cricket but also because we wanted other bowlers to experience international cricket. We always knew that on the slow, low wickets in the Caribbean, we would require him, we would need someone to turn the ball away from the right-handers.”
“He is very experienced, but Anil's personality around the team is also significant. We have 13 games between now and the World Cup to get him back into one-day rhythm. He won't play all those games, but will feature in enough to be in top form by the time the World Cup comes around.”