India in 2005 – Part 2

India in 2005 – Part 1

The coach and the captain can only do so much. In the end, it’s the players who have to perform in the middle for a team to do well. Although Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid did all that was necessary and possible in their roles, the larger part of India’s success in the latter half of the year 2005 came as a result of astonishing performances from some of the youngsters, conjuring up an optimistic vision for the future.

Got Milk?

His long locks and reddish mullet has won him a lot of fans of the fairer sex, but his performances on field have ensured him as India’s wicket-keeper for at least a considerable time to come, at least in the shorter version of the game. Mahendra Singh Dhoni might not be the best golvesman the country has at hand, but he sure can blast the ball when he has got a bat in his hand. It did not take long for him to make his presence felt, as he hit a monstrous 148 against Pakistan, and gain the attention of the media, which seemed fascinated about how many glasses of milk he drank a day.

Whatever doubts there might have been as regards to Dhoni’s ability to play a responsible innings when necessary, instead of just going out an thrashing the bowlers, were removed when he scored 183 in a difficult chase with batters getting out around him, and that too in his typically aggressive fashion. By the time the year ended, he earned a spot in the Test team too, and had by a large margin improved his keeping.

The Fruit of the Search

India hasn’t had a ‘real’ all-rounder since forever, it seems. The search has gone on and on for years, hardly bearing any fruits. Sanjay Bangar showed promise on the domestic scene, but could not repeat the same on the international scene. Ajit Agakar never really got recognition as a lower-order batsman, especially after his horrendous Australian tour of 1999-2000. When Irfan Pathan got selected for the Indian side, there was a talk that he could be the one. Getting the award of the ICC Best Emerging Player 2004 did not help keep the hype down either.

Pathan’s initial success, and the following hype, seemed to have got to him, as he failed to even do well at his main job, which is bowling. The latter half of 2005, after Greg Chappell took over from John Wright, saw a totally different Pathan. He has now not only cemented his place as the lead new ball bowler, but has also made considerable progress as a batsman. A 93 and an 82 in the Test series against Sri Lanka, one down the order with India in trouble, the other while opening to put up a difficult target, showed the signs of his maturing. He also scored decent runs in the one-dayers, justifying the faith showed in him to go higher up the order. His batting was not all helter-skelter hitting, but he scored runs a quick pace even while showing glimpses of passable technique for a bowling all-rounder.

Pathan?s performances to end the year were exceptional, but it all started with the Zimbabwe Test series which he ended up being the Player of the Series for, even when it seemed that the Indian team was not in the best of forms and it might take Chappell some time to settle in especially with the whole affair with Sourav Ganguly.

Joie De Vivre

Despite what all happened off-field, involving Greg Chappell and Sourav Ganguly, it must be said that there was a stark difference of how they went about their business during the home season, which involved the seven-ODI and the three-Test series against Sri Lanka and five-ODI series against South Africa.

There was a marked difference in the fielding. The players seemed to have no qualms in diving, using any part of their body, just to stop an extra run or two or save a boundary. The body language was extremely positive, and it surely reflected in the results. It is of utmost important that the fielders back the bowlers, and that is what exactly happened; often, they bowlers were not able to get through, but persisted largely due to the backing of the fielders, and in the end yielded results.

Gautam Gambhir continued to impress as an opener, and also found his way into the ODI. He ended the year on a bleak note, with successive failures against Sri Lanka in the Tests, but this time around the selectors might have founded someone with whom they can persist with, for Gambhir surely has a lot of talent and attitude to last for a long time. Virender Sehwag’s year started with a bang, two big hundreds, one of which he went onto convert into a double, against Pakistan in the three-Test home series, but he ended it desolately, failing to continue what he began with.

Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh continued picking up wickets, and proved to be complementary to each other. RP Singh showed immense promise in the ODIs that he played later in the year and, having been picked for the Pakistan tour, is surely someone to look for the future. Ajit Agakar, who had not had a decent run in either format of the game for a while, finally got a continuous chance, and paid dividends as an able support to Irfan Pathan.

It was a shaky start under Chappell, but it did not take long before his influence spread, and attitudes changed. Results helped the people not turn against him during a controversy, which brewed to boundless limits. India goes into 2006 clearly as a force to reckon with, both in Tests and ODIs, with Chappell and Rahul Dravid at the helm of affairs.

For the Record…

– tied v Pakistan in Tests at home in March-April, 1-1
– lost v Pakistan in ODIs at home in March-April, 2-4
– were runners-up in the Indian Oil Cup 2005 in Sri Lanka in August
– were runners-up in the Videocon Tri Series in Zimbabwe in August-September
– won v Zimbabwe in Tests in Zimbabwe in September, 2-0
– won v Sri Lanka in ODIs at home in October-November, 6-1
– tied v South Africa in ODIs at home in November, 2-2
– won v Sri Lanka in Tests at home in December, 2-0

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