Friday , May 03, 2013 at 11 : 36
In October 2000, most fans in this country were united in their loss of love for the game. The shadow of match fixing loomed large, but it was a spirited performance by Sourav Ganguly's young Turks, that forced many to retune their television sets. They gave an inkling of what was coming our way in the next decade.
India didn't win that Champions Trophy hosted in Nairobi, Kenya. In fact they have never won this tournament single-handedly (joint winners with Sri Lanka in 2002, yes!) and now its last edition is just round the corner. The tournament travels to England before it is resigned to history books and the last time it travelled to this country in 2004, the Men in Blue didn't do so well.
Post the IPL season, it will be India's first assignment, a sort of new beginning to the season (a term vaguely defined nowadays). It will be good if they lift the trophy and make a winning start. It won't be easy, playing the group-stage against South Africa, West Indies and Pakistan, needing to win atleast two of these three games to progress ahead.
This is where the bigger picture emerges. Even if the team doesn't win this last Champions Trophy, it shouldn't make a difference as long as the Indian selectors get their priorities right.
This tournament is a pre-cursor to the ODI World Cup, has always been, independent of the conditions it is played in. As long as it was a biennial tournament, it marked the progress of every ODI side. How the players gelled together, whether their plans and strategies as a unit were working out, and pointing to the steps that needed to be taken to rectify errors leading to the next World Cup.
The Indian example is proof of this. In 2002, the crux of Ganguly's team had been decided and they put on a great show in South Africa (2003). The 2004 tournament was a reminder of a team in flux and the Indian team that played the 2006 edition at home should have been fixed up. It wasn't and six months later, things unravelled in the Caribbean (2007). In 2009, again a state of flux, but with fresh legs and new 'senior' players giving momentum, the triumph in 2011 came forth.
This 2013 edition then comes as a boon for Sandeep Patil and company to fine tune their plans for the 2015 ODI World Cup. Why already? For one, there have been quite a few changes to the fifty-over format that will have mighty impact in the next edition in Australia-New Zealand, where India will defend their trophy. In particular the two-new balls rule, one from each end, which should be quite a handful in seaming and bouncy conditions.
And the second reason pertains to this new selection committee's own doing, since they came to power. When they were handed the reins, much needed to be chopped and changed. Given how Kris Srikkanth and his team failed miserably especially in their last two years in-charge, there was wholesome doubt whether this new panel could ring in changes, whether they will show enough gumption to wield the axe where it needs to be. They did, much to everyone's surprise, and in quite a wholesome manner. Before the England series was done, Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh were out of Test reckoning. Harbhajan Singh too, but he did come for a lack of options.
They invested in younger names, showing their will to give chances, particularly in the fast bowling department. Shami Ahmed and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were given their India caps, and look how the latter has blossomed. They backed MS Dhoni's plans for the Australia Test series and took a punt on Ravindra Jadeja, which he repaid in full (in helpful conditions yes, but that is a debate for another day). Most importantly, they cut the long rope given to the openers, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, ridding the batting order of its major deficiency since 2011. It is but assured that Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan will be going to South Africa.
But that comes later. At the moment, it is about experimentation with their ODI resources. They need to pick a new opening combination, evaluate if Gambhir is still an option and discuss how Dhoni wants to deploy his batting order in non-sub-continental conditions. They need to consider if Rohit Sharma merits another shot. And they need to measure whether that will be beneficial to India's long-term plans as also whether it will be justice to Ajinkya Rahane and Manoj Tiwary.
They need to firmly build-up the bowling unit, solely keeping the English, Aussie and Kiwi conditions in mind. They need to weigh whether Jadeja has sidelined Pragyan Ojha for an ODI spot already and whether they would like to hand Irfan Pathan a shot at redemption. They need to answer the Sreesanth-question for he definitely merits a look-in. They need to continue to back Ahmed and Kumar, whilst asserting if Umesh Yadav is fit and ready to lead the attack.
The Champions Trophy is a marker. It sounds the bugle for India's preparation for their title defence in 2015. Over to the selectors!