Ground reality may cloud Fletcher’s sunny optimism
Newly appointed India cricket coach Duncan Fletcher’s recent prediction — that the team would rule the sport in the next five years — has been well received in a country that seems to take the team’s global domination for granted.
While everything suggests India would remain a top team in all three formats, they are unlikely to dominate the game like the West Indies of the 1970s and 80s or Australia subsequently.
Especially in test cricket.
What Fletcher seems to have overlooked is India’s thin bowling cupboard, especially in the pace department, that should be a serious concern for any team aspiring to dominate the game.
West Indies, to a large extent, owed their heydays to their Fearsome Foursome pace battery of Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Malcolm Marshall, who, at their best, looked capable of defending any total.
Similarly, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne were key to Australia’s success over nearly a decade and half, sharing 1,271 test wickets between them.
In fact, many felt Ricky Ponting was an ordinary captain and all he did in hours of crisis was to toss the ball either to McGrath or Warne and watch them get the job done.
And once these go-to men walked into the sunset, along with a few other comrades, Australia swiftly lost their aura of invincibility.
The spectacular decline of both West Indies and Australia underlines the fact that no team can hope to reach the top and, more importantly, stay there if they do not have deep bowling reserves.
Already there is too much on Zaheer Khan’s plate and the attack looks pretty pedestrian without the left-arm pacer whose duty also includes mentoring his error-prone bowling colleagues.
Of them, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma remain under-achievers, while the likes of Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel and Praveen Kumar cannot convince detractors that they are long-term test material.
In the slow bowling department, Harbhajan Singh’s stagnation continues to baffle, while the selectors clearly lack confidence in Amit Mishra’s leg-spin.
The test team should also brace for a transition problem, akin to one Australia went through, when ageing batting stalwarts Sachin Tendulkar (38), Rahul Dravid (38) and VVS Laxman (36) hang up their boots.
The Virat Kohlis and Suresh Rainas may have done fairly well but that void may still prove too big to fill.
And aside from a soft middle-order underbelly, India may also struggle to find a decent slip fielder among its new generation of players.
Fletcher has just raised the expectation with his prediction and he would have to bear the brunt if the success story does not pan out the way he expects it.