Greg Chappell - ODI Season 1 : Winter of Content
It's still cricket after all, how different can it be? So they say about Test match and Limited Overs game. I have a suspicion Rahul Dravid and Greg Chappell would have something to say on this subject.
Greg's stint with India, in fact, started with ODIs, alongside the leadership of a certain gentleman we would keep out of this article, for sanity's sake if nothing else. The Sri Lankan trip was marked by the regular stutters, start-stop, inconsistent game that India had come to identify with, in its ODI performances for almost an year by then. There were brief glimpses of spark - another Yuvraj return, some Sehwag fireworks, Nehra doing his regular goods in ODIs, a new spark from Rao/Raina/Dhoni and the usual tenacity of Dravid. The theme was not much different in Zimbabwe, with Kaif replacing Yuvraj for the 'comeback kid' title, and some more sparks from newcomers like Rao, Raina and JP. But the results, overall showed a continuity of the grand theme existing in those times.
Then came the storm after the umm...mild showers. The home series against Sri Lanka was the first for Dravid as the new permanent captain of Indian team. It also marked the return of Sachin Tendulkar. And, totally coincidentally, it was the first time that a certain gentleman was dropped from ODI scheme of things permanently (this event is also referred by a section of Indian cricket followers, in the Indian cricketing history, as the day when cricket died. But instead of digressing now, I touch this subject later). The series marked the return of the dominant, consistent and a fresh Indian team. The evidence was there in, although not limited to, the margin of victory. For I can't remember when was the last time we so completely dominated a visiting - forget second ranked- non-minnow team. The team was looking like winning everything, the ideas were coming thick and fast, and clicking. The opponents were floored by the Dhoni, Pathan, Sachin, Dravid charge as much as the a-surprise-a-day tactic from the management. The bowling department was marking the return of effective Pathan, as well as some new sparks in Santh, RP and Raina (who debuted earlier in Zimbabwe) as well as departure of an incumbent Zaheer not living upto the expectations. The youngsters were being given calculated responsibilities - and they were grabbing it by both hands. The sernior players played the part of career guides/teachers on the field to perfection.
Then the South Africans came visiting, and one thought that for all their second rank, the SLankans were not the real challenge since they had the reputation of bad travellers, so SA would be the tough ones to break. So was the case, but India, overall, performed admirably once again. With the young brigade showing more signs of taking up the mantle in a more permanent fashion. Not that the elderly Dravid/Sachin were showing signs of burden.
The Pakistan series started on the back of a bad test match, so there was trepidation even amongst the 'believers' of the earlier results. And to top it, India lost a closely fought first game (although not due to batting failure, which was the cause of the test defeat, but then such trivialities are not necessarily noticed by the bashing-brigade). But then came the reappearance of the 'new India', the one which hardly ever looked like losing a game. The transformation of the nextgen, in Pathan, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Raina, Santh and others, was complete. They were ready to be counted in serious contenders, ready to put up their hand every there was a need. The fielding was consistently good, the camaraderie was matching the WC04 standards, the plans were falling in place, and the moves were all clicking.
Then, the final battle, was against the English. Albeit this was against the weakest of the all the ODI opponents India had faced since its resurgence, but this one too came close on the heels of a debacle in a test match (and arguable a whole series) where India were supposed to dominate. So, the signs of nerves were there in all groups of followers once again. India did show signs of hiccup in the first match, with its first innings performance with the bat (and were duly hooted by the spectators - maybe even remote fans - expecting a follow-up of the Mumbai test) but then, since the second innings of that match, the 'new India' surfaced once more. And, till date, has shown no signs of going back into hibernation (not that it ever did in ODIs). The self-belief that came with the much stronger wins of recent past got it past that initial hurdle, and then expectedly the English looked half-intent to roll-over and play dead. The tactics continued, the youngsters kept maturing, the seniors kept handling responsibility with aplomb, the fielding hardly ever wilted. The only minor hiccup has been the patchy form of Sehwag, although with intermittent good signs of revival, and the much more horrible run of Kaif, despite the fact that he is making runs in domestic as well as first class matches (the warm-up game against England) hence the call for his 'return to domestic' hardly has any merit. But these are minor hiccups, and a strong team, with a majority of its components clicking, is likely to overcome them sooner or later.
But major sections of India, today. are a divided lot - accept it or not. The lines of division were once along the lines of Chappell vs Ganguly, then it moved to 'the system' vs Ganguly, then finally it stands such that there are divisions along supporters of the current team/process/system (and not necessarily Chappell, I must strictly opine here) vs the 'rest' where 'rest' equals those who think he/they/it would (and should) fail, and therefore not only waiting for it, but even 'willing' it to happen, sometimes at the cost of Indian failure. So while one half waits for the ODI effect to seep over to the tests (for after all, it's still cricket, and how different can it be?), the others wait for 'the bubble to burst' as someone, whom I chance to know very closely, once said.
Watch out, then. Interesting times ahead. As usual.