x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Champions Trophy: Time for India's new core to shine

Group B With the old, reliable faces now gone, captain MS Dhoni must help usher in India's next generation, a process that may be an endless experiment in trial and error, writes Osman Samiuddin.

The onus on leading India's batting rests largely on the shoulders of Virat Kohli, left, and his captain MS Dhoni. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP
The onus on leading India's batting rests largely on the shoulders of Virat Kohli, left, and his captain MS Dhoni. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP

India's one-day international side are moving on. Old truths still hold true: they are a formidable monster at home. They own Sri Lanka wherever they play. In England though, once the scene of a World Cup triumph as well as a tri-series in 2002, they have lately been abysmal and it is that recent record (they have won only three of their past 12 ODIs in England) that is a concern for their supporters.

New truths are in the process of being formed. The world champions will be without the man most responsible for that triumph, Yuvraj Singh. For the first time since 1987, they will enter an ICC 50-over tournament without Sachin Tendulkar. Zaheer Khan, so good at the last World Cup, is also gone. Virender Sehwag is finished, Gautam Gambhir out of form and favour, as is Harbhajan Singh.

But India arrive with an intriguing, fresh squad. Virat Kohli has been outrageously good since the last World Cup, setting standards so high it was inevitable he would go through the kind of mini-dip he has endured in his past nine ODIs. On him - and MS Dhoni - will much of the batting fall; Suresh Raina is a middle-order giant in most places and Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and Rohit Sharma are all capable, but ODIs in England require different, difficult-to-master disciplines.

It is actually - and surprisingly, perhaps - the pace bowling attack that will be the one to watch.

In Irfan Pathan, Vinay Kumar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar they have just the kind of swing-happy pace trio likeliest to profit if conditions are particularly English, more so if the batting of West Indies and Pakistan is as suspect in those conditions as imagined.

From Ishant Sharma almost anything can be expected and nothing predicted, but Umesh Yadav is a genuine quick. His methods are simple and uncomplicated: he bowls straight, full and is consistently quick. He reverses it as well. In fact, it would be tempting to call him the most promising fast bowler out of India if it were not such an obvious curse.

More than ever, Dhoni's role will be key. One stage of India's much-awaited transition (in both Test and ODIs) is complete. The old, reliable faces are out. That, believe it or not, is the easier bit. Now is the really difficult phase, of endless experimentation, trial and error and patience tested to its limits before will emerge a new core.

Long ago Dhoni ceased to be the unworried, carefree and audacious youth; the nature of the job makes it impossible to maintain. But among this new side he will seem older than ever before now, a senior not just for his position but for how many years he has been around.


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