Between 2011 and 2012, India seemed to be stuck in a cricketing tunnel without end. Humiliation in England and Australia was followed by embarrassment at home against the English.
Since the start of 2013, the fortunes have changed. The home Test series whitewash of the Kangaroos was followed by the Champions Trophy triumph in England. India then walked all over West Indies in Sachin Tendulkar’s swansong series.
Yet, India would be well aware of the challenge that awaits them on their first major tour for almost two years when they touchdown in South Africa on Monday. India are yet to win a series in South Africa and this will be the first major tour after the retirements of Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
But the word panic must be alien to the serene MS Dhoni. The India captain did not brush aside the challenges but maintained calm before the team’s departure for the three-ODI and two-Test series. The honour missing from Dhoni’s glittering cupboard is Test wins abroad and a successful tour is crucial to bolster his legacy as captain.
“It is always a challenge when you go and play abroad, you are competing against the home team and they know the conditions well,” Dhoni said. “Starting with the ODIs will help as you get to play the shots, and you get rid of the initial nerves.”
Fair point, but does he believe it can be done without the batting stalwarts? “Well, if you see, there is always a new start. When Paaji (Tendulkar) played his first Test match that was his start, so what is important is that they have the exposure, even if it is ODIs or ‘A’ tours,” he said. “Irrespective of how many Tests you’ve played, you will be criticised if you don’t perform. The challenge is for them to adjust quickly. We can give youngsters an opportunity, but it is up to them to grab it.”
Dhoni insists it will be unfair to compare the youngsters with the retired legends. “The important thing is there must not be pressure on that individual saying he is replacing Sachin Tendulkar. If possible, we will omit the number four position. One, two, three, five, six, seven and then we’ll play till 12. We don’t know who will be batting at four but whoever it is, he brings his own character and importance into the side.”
If the youngsters do cope with the responsibility of shouldering the batting in South Africa’s hostile conditions, it could be the dawn of Indian batting’s new legacy.