"As a captain, I feel it's a complete series for us. Everyone contributed at different times..." said Indian captain Virat Kohli after his team absolutely pummeled the touring England side 4-0 in the five-match Test series, and consolidated their position at the top of the ICC Test Rankings. Coach Anil Kumble echoed the captain's sentiments and identified as one of the biggest positives the fact that despite injuries, whoever got an opportunity, contributed.
And that was indeed what made India stand out this time. Unlike England, injuries that are part and parcel of a long series and a long season, could not diminish India's performance in any way. It showed the depth in the side and the strength of the reserve bench, that is important for continued domination. And when players selected as replacements for injured regular members of the side threaten to become regular members themselves, you know the reservoir of talent is full to the brim and indeed overflowing.
That has been the story of the series really. Thus, when wicketkeeper-batsman Parthiv Patel was recalled after eight years, to replace the injured first-choice glovesman Wriddhiman Saha for the third Test in Mohali, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands, 'keeping reasonably well, opening the innings at Mohali and Chennai and amassing 195 runs in four innings, with two half-centuries.
Now Saha is generally regarded as the best wicketkeeper around in the country at the moment after Mahendra Singh Dhoni. But Dhoni's retirement from Tests made Saha almost a default choice in the playing eleven.
As a batsman also, Saha had played some very useful knocks; the first of which that comes to mind is his century against the West Indies at Gros Islet earlier in the year during the course of which he shared a vital 213-run partnership with Ravichandran Ashwin and took India to considerable safety after five wickets were down for a mere 126. That innings was surely one of the reasons India won that match. The two unbeaten half-centuries he scored against New Zealand at Kolkata were also worth their weight in gold in the context of the match.
But now with Parthiv making a strong statement, wouldn't it be difficult for Saha to just walk into the team? And in fact Parthiv himself can't take things easy, for there is some serious competition from the young wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant, who has been setting the domestic circuit alight with the bat, as he had done in the U-19 World Cup earlier this year.
He smashed the fastest hundred by an Indian in First-Class cricket when he brought up his century off a mere 48 balls during a Ranji Trophy match in November. He is also the third-youngest India to score a triple century in First-Class cricket. Pant is a talent for the future and will get his opportunity, though Kumble said Parthiv has been preferred now owing to his experience and 'keeping.
However, the player who perhaps would be concerned the most about his place in the side would be Ajinkya Rahane. Out of the series midway with a hand injury, Rahane saw Karun Nair taking up the crucial No 5 slot in the batting order in the last two Tests in Mumbai and Chennai respectively. While Nair did precious little in Mumbai, as in his debut Test in the previous match at Mohali, he just stunned all and sundry with a triple ton, no less, in Chennai, becoming only the second Indian after Virender Sehwag to achieve the feat.
Rahane, for his part, has been one of the pillars of the Indian middle-order, along with Kohli, in recent times. He gave ample proof of his batting skills when he scored a century in both innings of the Delhi Test against South Africa last year on a pitch that turned out to a graveyard for the Proteas. His 188 against New Zealand in Indore, during which he shared a mammoth 365-run stand with Kohli, warrants special mention.
However, Nair having scored the runs that he did in Chennai, dropping him would be next to impossible for some time now. With KL Rahul, Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara all being among runs, it would be difficult to find a place back for Rahane, unless India choose to play six specialist batsmen. But they may not walk along that path, with Parthiv/Saha, Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jayant Yadav doing more than enough in the lower-middle and lower-order. India might want to play an extra bowler instead.
There is every reason for Rahane, therefore, to feel that his place in the batting order and indeed that in the team have been usurped by Nair. And there is the highly-talented middle-order batsman Manish Pandey waiting in the wings. Also Rohit Sharma will throw his hat in the ring once he gets fit.
The team management would not be complaining at such a state of affairs. If a player of the calibre of Rahane has to fight tooth and nail for his place, it indicates Indian cricket is in the pink of health.
In fact, whichever position in the team you look at, there are several candidates, all equally capable. There is a mad rush for the opener's slot. Rahul has had to miss a couple of Tests against England owing to injury, but the 199 in Chennai would give him some breathing space. Murali Vijay, with two centuries in the series, is pretty much a certainty as an opener for the time being.
However, there are plenty of options here too. Parthiv has shown that he can be more than handy as an opener and can be favoured if the team think tank decides to go with a left-right combination at the top, as can be southpaws Shikhar Dhawan and Gautam Gambhir. Dhawan lost his place in the side owing to injury and poor form, but has four Test centuries to his name and can't be counted out. The experienced Gambhir's enterprising comeback was, on the other hand, cut short by a poor return in the first Test of the series at Rajkot, and he is seen to be falling behind in the race a bit.
The England series has proved that India's bench strength is quite strong in the bowling department too. Jayant Yadav has fitted into the role of a third spinner perfectly, taking nine wickets in three matches. What's more, he has contributed vital runs lower down the order, including a half century and a century. He seems to have stolen a march over Amit Mishra, who was the team's third spinner before the series, but had a very ordinary outing overall.
Yuzvendra Chahal is another upcoming spinner who has a big potential in international cricket. He had shot into prominence with his performances in the Indian Premier League (IPL), and bagged his first ODI 'Man of the Match' award against Zimbabwe with a spell of 3/25 in June this year, and has been in good form both for his Ranji side Haryana and India A. Pawan Negi and Shahbaz Nadeem can also be good backup for the lead spinners Ashwin and Jadeja.
The pace bowling department is also in good hands, with Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav leading the attack, and players like Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar to fall back on. Also Jaspreet Bumrah, who had been doing pretty well in limited overs for India and possesses a deadly yorker, must be tried out in Tests sooner rather than later.
The coming of age of the support cast, and the ease with which they played lead roles when called upon to do so, have to count as a big gain for India from this series, apart from the performances of Kohli and Ashwin. What is even more heartening to note is that there is a pool of talent yet to be drawn from. Any team, across sports, that is successful over long periods of time essentially has considerable bench strength. The fact that the Karun Nairs, Jayant Yadavs, Parthiv Patels and Bhuvneshwar Kumars of the team are being able to win matches against quality international oppositions promises sunny days ahead for Indian cricket.
There was a time not too long ago when the selectors had to bang their heads against the wall trying to find the right opening pair (till Sehwag and Gambhir came along) and the right wicketkeeper (till Dhoni emerged), but now the they are spoilt for choice. There is an abundance of quality in the reserves, and India have no longer to depend upon one or two players to bring them victories. And that is the sign of a team poised for world domination.
Updated Date: Dec 22, 2016 20:23:12 IST