A look back at the Test series loss against England to pick who from the current squad can serve India well in the next couple of years.
There's not much to pick and choose when you have lost a home series after an eight-year dominance. With most of the stalwarts retired, a couple dropped and a legend fighting to make up his mind, India look a dismal shadow of the team that became No. 1 in 2009.
But it was expected, and now that the transition phase has actually arrived, here's a look back at the Test series loss against England to analyse who out of the current squad can serve India well in the next couple of years.
"MS Dhoni is still the only player who can captain India." The comment may enrage you but once you get hold of your nerves, sit back and reflect, you can't help but nod in confirmation. But while there're no two ways about Dhoni being an astute ODI player and skipper, his Test credentials are under a serious cloud, and that's where he has reached the point of introspection.
Dhoni's knock of 99 in the Nagpur Test showed that once he gets things between his ears in order, there aren't many elements around to clutter his mind. But his manicure and pedicure demands make you think twice about his trust in the team to win Test matches on sporting tracks. And it won't be a surprise if even the BCCI president N Srinivasan fails to save his man this time - with pressure mounting on a team that's now not a tiger even at home.
The question though is: if not Dhoni, then who? The best way forward would be with Virat Kohli. Rest Dhoni for the Pakistan series and the ODIs against England leading up to the Australia series in February-March. Ask Kohli to lead there, which will not only allow Dhoni time to introspect but also give the BCCI a fair idea about what the captaincy does to Kohli.
Until the first innings of the second Test, it seemed this would be Cheteshwar Pujara's series. England were struck in a Dravid-like manner by India's new No. 3 whose first three knocks read 206*, 41* and 135. He stood like a rock, promising to turn into 'The Wall'. But his real Test will come when India tours out of the subcontinent. Still, Pujara looks to be the man from whom India can expect 7000 Test runs.
Kohli was all at sea until he muttered "enough's enough" to himself in Nagpur. Back to the wall, Kohli rose to the occasion. Though his third Test century (103) could only fetch India a draw, it brought Kohli's grit to the fore - that he can dig in, take blows and wear heart on his sleeve. These are traits that put the spotlight on him as India's future captain.
Other than Pujara and Kohli, Virender Sehwag began the series with a promise. His run-a-ball 117 and 134-run partnership with Gautam Gambhir put England on the back foot as India stacked up 521. But the promise withered away with every passing innings. Same with Gambhir, who had just a couple of fifties and forties to show. Sachin Tendulkar looked caught between his decision to continue or leave the scene, while Yuvraj Singh got stuck at a stop sign after his 74 in the first innings in Ahmedabad before being dropped after the third Test.
Ajinkya Rahane has yet to be tested in whites, but his chance is around the corner. However, until Rahane shows his worth, only Pujara and Kohli out of the current lot seem to have the shoulders to carry Indian batting forward.
They say bowlers win you Test matches, for you need to take 20 wickets. The inept show of Indian bowlers ratifies that statement. If anybody, only Pragyan Ojha can be separated from the disappointing lot for being the joint highest wicket-taker (20) with Graeme Swann.
Ojha began with a match-winning haul of 9 for 165 but his next 11 wickets were spread across six innings and hurt India badly. Zaheer Khan was the spearhead before the series but was left to lick his wounds after the third Test. 'Jaded' will be best word to describe Zaheer. Four wickets in three Tests suggest we may have seen the last of him, which would be in the best interest of the team with Ashok Dinda and Parvinder Awana waiting for an opportunity to show their mettle.
R Ashwin began as India's spin spearhead but all his mysteries proved a backhand job for the Englishmen. Just 14 wickets in four Tests is a poor return if you are the leading spinner of your team. Ishant Sharma, save for a lion-hearted spell in Nagpur, also failed to raise the bar. But with age on their side, Ishant and Ashwin will continue to feature in India's scheme of things. But if you were asked to name one bowler who stood out, it has to be Ojha.
Harbhajan Singh – who was expected to once again singe opponents on turning backyard tracks – saw himself struck at 99 Tests after another low on a square-turner in Mumbai. It is difficult to see him return, but with spin options few and far in between, Harbhajan could play his 100th Test against Australia next year.
If Duncan Fletcher were coaching a poker team, he would have been more successful. Emoticons seem to be his biggest enemy, for he likes to keep a stone face. Yes it's good to keep your cards close to the chest, but there comes a time when you have to call 'show' if you want to win. That doesn't seem to be the case with the Zimbabwean, who needs to be a bit more proactive. And if he is, it isn't showing - neither in the results nor in his response to the team's dismal show. Fair to say, time running out for Mr. Poker Face.