India has over time become the hub and spokesperson for world cricket. The interest, fan following and hype that one encounters at every corner of the country, of matches in India and overseas, is remarkable.
Cricket, very rightly, has become a religion in India that fortunately has no boundaries, caste or division. This was so evident recently when world cricket lost one of their premier former leg spinners from Pakistan, Abdul Kadir. The heartfelt condolences that followed were sent quite surprisingly from many Indian fans and cricketers. This truly shows how the game is bigger than the bickering and fighting that one is subjected to daily about the feud between India and Pakistan.
Indian cricket is finally back on its shores. The phenomenal success in the West Indies, with a hundred percent point tally, towards the ICC World Test Championship, was just the boost required to rekindle the interest in the hearts of the Indian cricket lovers.
The battle royal against South Africa will start in the picture-perfect setting of one of the prettiest places in Himachal Pradesh - Dharamshala, a place which is known for its scenic beauty and the abode of the great Dalai Lama. The South African side led by their newly appointed captain Quinton de Kock, will definitely not be a push-over for the Indians. The team has some very exciting all-rounders and in Kagiso Rabada, a bowler who can single-handedly win them matches.
South Africa, after their miserable performance in the World Cup 2019 in England, will be looking to redeem their lost image. They do realise that they need to rebuild a side without two of their past legends -- Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers. Replacing them will naturally be a humongous task, but one has seen how young sides in the past have taken on the responsibilities and been successful. South Africa will be hoping for something like that.
The three T20I matches will be a good warm-up for the Test series to follow. The wonderful aspect of the World Test Championship is that every match in the next two years is important and teams from all over the world will need to play their best eleven. This will bring seriousness into the selection of not only the team but also in the way every country will approach the game.
Test cricket, in the recent past, somehow, looked like it was being played only for the record books, with very little seriousness about a team or players performances. The very ingredient that makes this sport a spectators delight, is that of a glamorous finale which ends with a glittering trophy and that was missing. This, therefore, diffused the very soul of Test cricket and made the limited-overs version become the aspiration and ultimate desire for not only cricketers but also for the millions of fans following the game.
The impact can be gauged by the way India's cricket success is only admired and recognized for it's World Cup win in 1983 and 2011 rather than their phenomenal Test series win in 1971 and many others before and after.
India, have announced their Test squad to play a three-match series from October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, versus South Africa for the Gandhi-Mandela Trophy. One feels that India have announced their Test squad a bit too soon. The selectors should have seen the form of the bowlers and batsmen not only of the South African side but also of the Indian players. The very basis of playing at home is the advantage that the host side has in picking the squad. Time is one ingredient that has a premium value and for India, to not take advantage of it, could be a folly that they may later regret.
The dropping of K.L. Rahul to accommodate Rohit Sharma as an opener may not be a bad idea. However, success in a white ball limited overs encounter and replicating it in a Test match is a totally different ball game. Rohit has an abundance of talent and it is a joy to watch him batting, but the role of an opener, especially in a Test match is very different from that of the shorter format of the game.
Somehow, one has got carried away because of the success of Virendra Sehwag in the past. The difference between Rohit and Sehwag is in their temperament and in the way they both approach their batting. They are great stroke-players but as different as chalk and cheese.
Indian cricket in the past has had many very good players who have been sacrificed at the top. Most of them proved to be successful for a short while and then later settled down in the middle order. Dilip Vengsarkar and V.V.S. Laxman are two such names. One hopes that Rohit Sharma and the young Shubman Gill do not fall victim to another of the short term moves to thrust them into a position which they will readily agree to play, but maybe will be detrimental to Indian cricket in the long run.
The other talked about spot of the Indian side is that of Rishabh Pant as a wicketkeeper. Pant has shown that he is improving behind the stumps but one is disappointed in the way he approaches his batting. He needs to be nursed and encouraged for the future of Indian cricket. He is quite a phenomenal stroke player who with experience will mature and become more judicious in executing his skills. Pant needs to be given a longer stint as how many can boast of a century in England and Australia in their very first year of Test cricket.
The Dharamsala T20I match should be interesting if weather permits. Winning the toss will be important, but for the Indian die-hard followers, cricket is back where it belongs, "At Home".
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer)
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