There haven't been too many takers for Indian cricket lately. The chronic phase, expected to have gotten over after the Australian embarrassment of 2012, now seems to be becoming more of an era of bad cricket with almost nothing left to cheer about. If India's overseas performances weren't enough to badger its spirits, its impregnable bastion --- the home turf – has also ceased to be a safe haven.
Amidst all the doom and gloom though, rare flashes have generated excitement, which have come to fore in the last ODI against Pakistan. Firstly, the introduction of yet another Indian medium-pacer to international cricket and then the quality of fielding displayed by some of the younger India players have given that much needed hope at this point.
Owing to injuries to frontline fast bowlers, the series against Pakistan provided a perfect opportunity to the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami Ahmed to showcase their wares. The emergence of Bhuvneshwar proved to be the brightest spot, for he swung the ball prodigiously in the air and gave initial breakthroughs in most matches.
There, perhaps, lies a lesson for us, that it's imperative to reward players who're doing well in domestic cricket and also, instead of obsessing over pace, we shall start focusing on bowlers who can swing the ball. The peculiar thing about pace is that either you have it or you don't, for you can't acquire it at a later stage. But if you work on the basics, get your wrist, body and seam position right, you can always learn the art of swinging the ball.
Also, the new rule of using two new balls, one at each end, would make the ball remain as good as new for longer and hence help the swing bowlers more. It goes without saying that playing the swinging ball isn't easy and could prove to be Indian bowler's strength in 2015.
While batting first, India managed a paltry total at the Kotla, but their ground fielding added another 30 runs to it. Rahane, Kohli, Raina and Jadeja manned the crucial positions inside the 30-yard ring and proved to be the difference between suffering a humiliating defeat and clinching an unlikely win. With Indian cricket in transition and young batsmen trying to find their feet, it's imperative that India continues to add a few runs to their overall total by fielding out of their skins.
Another important factor that decided India's fate in the last ODI against Pakistan was the presence of the fifth bowler. If the likes of Raina, Kohli and Yuvraj had to bowl 10 overs amongst them, the match would've been lost in the 45th over. Thanks to the new playing conditions and our lack of batting prowess, it's important that Dhoni reassesses his four-bowler strategy and adds more teeth to his inexperienced bowling attack by playing a fifth bowler.
Indian cricket is on slippery ground and if it were to put up a serious challenge to defend its World Cup crown in 2015, the planning must start now.
The writer is a former India opener