Remember the feeling of walking into an exam hall, dreading the next three hours? Knowing that they will test every dusty corner of your memory and squeeze every reluctant grey cell? Remember the relief you feel when you scan through the question paper, and realise that you have all the answers? Can you forget the feeling of handing your paper in, and walking out of the hall with a just-got-lucky smile on your face?
To an extent, this must be what the players in the Indian team would be feeling like after their ODI series win against a vapid Zimbabwe.
The carnage we have witnessed this time around makes it easy to forget that the last time India toured Zimbabwe, the series was a lot closer. India won the opening game by only four runs, and the hosts won the last game of the tour, to square the T20s 1-1.
When the squads were announced for this tour, there was some hope of a contest. The Indian touring party was considerably more inexperienced than 2015, with almost a third of the players being prospective debutants. And they were pitted against a team who had players who have played more than a 100 ODIs, some 200.
But the results have been deflating for Zimbabwe, and one wonders if they will be very uplifting for India. Yes, a series has been won, a white wash completed. Careers have been started, and milestones and records notched up. Yet the wins have been so facile, and the opposition so eager to implode, that the players who made their debuts might wish they had been challenged more.
In the minds of most people, getting to the national team must be the hardest thing in the world. But players themselves know that the hard work really starts when you get there. Being surrounded by peers who are a head and shoulders above your previous team mates, and facing world class opponents, gives players an idea of where the bar is, and what they need to do to get there. For a newcomer, the threats of the opposition are as real as the threat of exclusion if they don’t perform.
But for the likes of KL Rahul and Karun Nair, the biggest threat on this tour has been themselves. The opposition bowling has been tepid at best, and never really threatened the Indian batsmen. It looked like the only way they could get out, was if they made a mistake. With ample time to chase small totals, the top order has done their best to make sure that they finish the game, and don’t allow the middle order a chance to bat. It is reminiscent of school selection matches, where the openers do their best to kill two birds with one stone: chase the target, and make sure their classmates don’t get to impress the selectors. While such competition is good news for the Indian team, the Indian batsmen must almost have been wishing that Makhaya Ntini and Lance Klusner turn their arms over.
Not all debuts are such soft landings though. Barinder Sran and Rishi Dhawan made their debuts against Australia earlier this year, on pitches as flat as an ice skating rink. While they both performed admirably, their debuts gave them a real taste of international cricket, and they would have drawn tremendous confidence from a good show.
But there is confidence, and then there is overconfidence, of which we have seen none from the players, and that is heartening. There is also false confidence. Like a flat track bully who middles everything until the wicket has something in it for the bowlers, the players who excel here might be found wanting against stiffer opposition. Against Zimbabwe, while the players have notched up big scores and good figures, they would need to be wary of the false confidence such a tour can create. They must prepare with tougher challenges in mind.
The upcoming T20s, the format of the game most conducive to upsets, will provide the Zimbabwe players a chance to redeem themselves in the eyes of fans who would happily eviscerate them right now. It will also give them a chance to present a steeper slope to the Indian players, most of whom who are fresh from IPL success. For the sake of both teams, I hope that happens.