Curtain Raiser : The Season Ahead

12/4/09 in Cricket   |   gwadineeraj   |   99 respect

Another cricketing "season" starts for the Indian cricket team, though in these times a cricketing season has lost much of it's traditional meaning with matches, formats, and series jostling for space in an over crowded calender much like a Delhi Blue Line Bus. Perhaps for the first time since 2004 after a drawn and dominating series in Australia and the first series win in Pakistan, India is starting a new season on such a high and would do well to avoid a repitition of history.

India start off with a nice losener in Sri Lanka with a one round tri series involving New Zealand. Given the consistent success of the side in Sri Lanka over the past year in ODIs, it is hard to put anyone but India as the favorites. Mendis has been unravelled to a large extent and to expect New Zealand to mount a serious challenge to the subcontinental heavyweights in those conditions is pushing the realms of imagination. A winner of the toss takes all is likely to be played as a day-night fixture at Premadassa and by that time India would have hopefully found a spot and role for Dravid in the team.

The big fish is to be caught in South Africa - the Champions Trophy. India's best show has been to share the trophy till now and will no doubt be looking forward to lifting the trophy in what is likely to be Dravid's last ODI tournament. The decision of West Indies to send a club standard team for the event means it's a three way shoot out between India, Australia, and Pakistan for the semi final spot. India, no doubt, start as favorites among these sides with Centurion the venue of the encounters. The IPL experience is unlikely to count for much with the tournament being played at the start of the season and as is the case with these short and sweet tournaments, there won't be any room for error. Essentially India will have to win 4 games out of 4 excluding WI to lift the trophy. Ishant's performance will be critical.

Australia come to India in late October for 7 ODIs in an essentially meaningless series! It's near impossible to remember and place into any meaningful context the last time Australia toured India for a similar series except for the start of Monkey Gate and some Sreesanth antics. Surely, even a sport is supposed to be less ephermal than that! Unlike last time though, India will be up against a knackered and confused Australian ODI unit who have lost a series to India, 2 to South Africa, and drew against NZ over the last 2 years. Their only wins have been against Bangladesh, WI, and Pakistan. What this series will offer both teams though is tough competition and preparation ahead of the World Cup to be played in India. At least, in that aspect the series carries meaning.

The big fish is to be caught in South Africa - the Champions Trophy. India's best show has been to share the trophy till now and will no doubt be looking forward to lifting the trophy in what is likely to be Dravid's last ODI tournament.

 

Revenge time and the time to start the steps to be number 1 will come in November in December against Sri Lanka, the side by admission of many ranked unfairly at 2. What better opportunity to prove that statement, snatch away the number 2 position, avenge the defeat in Sri Lanka, and neutralize Mendis once and for all. The test venues have not been announced yet, so a lot of the predictions will be speculation. However, a strong show would be expected of Dhoni and his team. It will also mark the return of Sehwag to international cricket after a long lay off if he misses out on the Australian series and a chance for Tendulkar, Laxman, and Dravid to add more valuable miles to the frequent flier club. Dravid, specially, will have a lot to prove after being the most vulnerable of the Indian batsmen in Sri Lanka last year.

An obligatory tour to Bangladesh hammering the fruitlessness of the FTP will follow with 2 tests and 3 ODIs in December-January which will provide nothing more but an opportunity for the Indian batsmen and bowlers to arm and pad up their numbers before the grand finale of the season.

It will be in all likelihood be the battle for the number 1 test team in March between India and South Africa. A great opportunity for India to fulfill the goal of being the top test nation by 2010. South Africa won't lie down easy with the likes of Steyn and DeVilliers approaching the peak of their prowess led by the inspirational Smith. But if the pitches are the traditional end of the season Indian wickets it will be difficult for the Proteas to leave India undefeated in the series against Harbhajan and Mishra. It promises to be the marquee contest of 2010 and India will need to be at the top of every aspect of their game. They would need to manage the workloads of their pacers througout the season for this contest. Anything less than 100%, and be sure South Africa are going to exploit the holes. India will not be able to afford green tops which flatten out like Ahmedabad. Matches will have to played on good subcontinental surfaces like the traditional Mumbai, Kolkatta, Chennai, and Mohali tracks. Winning would be a challenge but the victory will linger in the minds and hearts, even more so since it will be followed by some mindless slogging and artificial excitement of the IPL.
 
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