The mirror has two faces
A 100 per cent win record against Australia - in any format - deserves hosannas. This young Indian team has done it twice in as many occasions in T20 cricket.
What is fascinating though is not the win; it is how different the T20 team looks from the one-day unit that features many of the same young players - the T20 stars are far more aggressive, assertive, assured… almost arrogant in their wins.
There is a sense of déjà vu right now, for we started the just concluded series against the Aussies on this same celebratory note, i.e., by applauding our heroes. But a lot has happened in between. We look at some issues.
India were thumped in the ODI series and the scoreline would have been worse had the Bangalore game not been washed out. So perhaps it's time we dispense with the hullabaloo about precocious finds and do some straight talking.
The Wankhede ODI was only the first time India beat Oz batting second since 1998. It was a game that needed the bowlers to bat and a dead rubber. Yes, a win is a win. But nine years is an impossibly long time in sport to record a win, especially for a team like India with such a formidable batting line-up. It's not a pretty statistic. Nor is India's one-day record over the past year.
Is three a crowd?
There's also been a lot of unnecessary chitchat about the Big Three and their utility to the one-day squad. But Tendulkar returned the highest run getter for the third successive series, Ganguly has barely put a foot wrong since his comeback and Dravid, barring this series, has been India's most consistent bat for the past five years, if not more.
Yuvraj also seems to finally be discovering his immense talent. So who do India have apart from these four?
Dhoni is skipper but how he juggles the captaincy, the wicket-keeping and his batting will be severely tested in Australia.
Uthappa has impressed with his aggressive strokeplay and apparent calm but whether he has the temperament to go on and get a really big one regularly is something we have to wait and see.
Gambhir, again, has done outstandingly in the T20 games, but despite some good-looking knocks, has struggled to take that consistency into the longer format against stronger teams.
Dinesh Karthik was dubbed India's great hope but has to guard against being just a hope. He has done well as a Test opener but despite batting high up in the other two formats, has failed to make a mark. Both Uthappa and Karthik will get you a good 40-50 on their day but a fifty doesn't win you the game (not when you're batting in the top four).
It's a bit too early to say anything about Rohit Sharma but then, what do India have? Sehwag has been out of the loop for really long, and while Badrinath is an option, he hasn't been tested at the highest level. So let's just face it — as things stand, if India have to compete and eventually win ODIs, they need the Big Three.
That brings us to another question. India dropped/rested Dravid, a man who was good enough to lead the team even after the World Cup debacle and probably would still have been captain had he not quit, for the final ODI. The selectors say it was a temporary measure. So who will now make way against Pakistan?
Gambhir is back in the picture with his MOM performance in the T20 game and Uthappa has done well. One of them will logically sit out to make way for Dravid. This is without getting into the Sehwag, Badrinath, Rohit Sharma et al question.
Need for segmentation
With so much cricket being played in so many different formats, perhaps the time has come to compartmentalise performances according to formats. A great T20 performance shouldn't guarantee a place in a longer version and vice versa.
You need different mindsets and qualities in T20 cricket. Seven batsmen have to last only 20 overs, which gives them the licence to whack the ball from the word go. Every over is 5 per cent of your batting innings and therefore has a greater influence on the innings. So one big over (15-20 runs) could be 10 per cent of the final tally. Hence, it's worth taking risks in T20s.
But in ODIs, an over is only two per cent of the whole. So a 15-run over rarely changes the complexion of a match.
What lies ahead?
India begin another tough series (against Pakistan) in a fortnight. Some experts (and the selectors are mulling it) have suggested that, as it's relatively easier, India try out a few youngsters and rotate the seniors. Didn't we hear that Tendulkar & Co will not play all seven ODIs before Oz landed (except for the easy bit)?
In the end, you can only rotate players if you're winning. Resting Tendulkar against the Aussies was unthinkable — he was the best Indian bat on show.
Yet, on the bright side, India looked good in patches. The Aussies looked vulnerable every now and then but unfortunately, India did not capitalise.
One major problem is an inability to take wickets in the middle and restrict runs at the death. They need more guile and variety to grab scalps in a full 50-over game. In T20s, with batters going after you, the wickets come more easily. So if they manage to sort out some kinks, and implement plans, the future could be brighter.