Merely winning will not satisfy Indians
India have a lot on their plate as they move to Sri Lanka for the triangular series. They have a new coach and a new captain; Tendulkar and Ganguly are missing and a few seniors have been asked to prove themselves all over again. Merely winning will not satisfy them. They seek a few critical answers with 2007 World Cup in mind.
It amuses me to see so much of a build up in India over the new coach Greg Chappell. Everyone expects him to conjure up miracles. Unfortunately, cricket does not work that way.
A good team wins because it has worked out a good combination, its wheels are running on a good piston and engine. Just one factor is not decisive. I have seen good teams win even when they have had a bad coach, as bad teams have lost even when a super coach has worked tirelessly. It's all about the combination in the park which, eventually, does the trick.
Similarly, Rahul Dravid as new captain cannot provide all the answers straight away. He is an experienced guy who has constantly strived to improve himself. But he will miss the experience of Tendulkar and Ganguly, two guys who not very long ago appeared to have a 99-year lease at the batting crease in the one-day context. Dravid is expecting seniors to show the freshness of youngsters; and rookies to play with a mature head.
It is important for India to find most of these answers against the hosts for two reasons. One, they face Sri Lanka in their own group in the 2007 World Cup. Two, conditions in the Caribbean are largely similar to what exist in Sri Lanka. A good performance will show them that they are on the right path.
Unfortunately, it would not be easy. Sri Lanka has lost only one of their last nine games at home. In the last five years, India has won just three and lost six one-day matches in Sri Lanka. Most of Sri Lanka's top players remain unmoved.
Sanath Jayasuriya has not been in good touch in one-dayers recently but the sight of Indian bowlers nearly always gets him going. Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan, as they have showed against an admittedly weak West Indies side, still retain a voracious appetite.
These three will ask a few technical questions from the Indian players. What is the best way to play them? It is something which Dravid and Chappell, and all those young and not-so-young Indian batters, will have to find out themselves. Should they take them on or simply try to play out Murali's and Vaas's quota of overs? It would be dangerous to go with a pre-conceived notion.
A lot depends on the wicket, surface, conditions and the field setting. A good coach and captain should not lose sight of abetting factors. It was only last year that I predicted that India could win the 2007 World Cup. Since then they have slipped up dramatically. Their consistency is missing and I also believe they are ageing a bit.
Not that it begs the question what VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble are doing in the one-day side. Without them, India would otherwise have been too light on experience in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka are nearly impregnable at home because the conditions suit their composition to the hilt. At the moment, their batsmen are a little untidy but the Tests against the West Indies would ease them into a good rhythm for the triangular series. It is a good unit which would look to play to their potential against India. Somehow, they never fail to get inspired at the sight of an Indian team!