By Veturi Srivatsa
It was a Super Sunday for Indian sport. Though media downplayed India’s hockey team winning the series 3-1 in Australia, it’s a great achievement compared to the other success story of the day, the cricket team taking an unbeatable 3-0 lead against Sri Lanka in the five-match One-Day series.
In hockey, even the odd victory over Australia, the Netherlands and Germany is a big thing, let alone winning a series so convincingly down under, whereas in cricket beating anyone at home is more or less taken for granted.
Some are taking the hockey success cynically, refusing to believe India can beat the top dogs and many on social media have commented that they could win only because the Australians fielded their second string team. That’s not true as there were only four newcomers in the squad and a majority of the players who played in the series will be there in Bhubaneswar playing in the Champions Trophy.
So, give credit to the boys who won not one, not two but three of the four matches. It is difficult to recall a series victory of this enormity against a champion side in a couple of decades.
The Australian experts are highly impressed with the Indians. They think India have some world-class players and forward Sunil is one and, of course, the proven Sardar Singh. They see the side as well-drilled.
The on-field performance has, perhaps, something to do with India acquiring a bit of clout in the FIH councils with its new president Narinder Batra projecting the country as a commercial hub for the sport. His personal rapport with FIH chief Leandro Negre enabled him to get most major international events allotted to India in the last couple of years.
The Hockey India League (HIL) has also done wonders to the sport, attracting a large number of top international players and enabling a lot of Indian players to rub shoulders with them.
All the leagues in various sports have sprung up after seeing the success of cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL). The league has become such a thundering success that some of the players selected for national duty in shorter formats are its products, particularly the bowlers.
Now every game India play is seen in the context of the upcoming World Cup in the Antipodes and every victory and the individual performances. After the West Indies players pulled out of their tour of India over a pay dispute after playing the one-dayers, the Sri Lankans disrupted their pre-World Cup training to play five One-Day Internationals (ODI) in the time the West Indies were to play the Test series.
The Indians under a stand-in captain and with replacements for rested players won the series straight 3-0. If the West Indies players had a grouse over their emoluments, the Sri Lankans appeared as though they were taking it out on their authorities for forcing them to play India by going through the motions. They tried both chasing and setting the target, but without success.
All the mainline batsmen were in terrific form and fast bowler Umesh Yadav, who the selectors have now included in the Test squad for the Australia series along with another 140km-plus sppedster Varun Aaron, has shown his worth in the three games. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami will complete the fast bowling complement.
Left-arm spinner Axar Patel has also done enough in the three matches to get into the squad for the tri-series down under where England are the third side.
The Indians will be playing first a four-Test series in Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.
At least one bowler who should have been tried out in the three games, leg-spinner Karn Sharma, has now found a place in the Australia-bound Test squad along with prolific run-getters K.L. Rahul and Naman Ojha, though the latter will be going as a backup for the injured skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who will miss the first Test for what the cricket board says “as a prophylactic measure to ensure optimum recovery”.
Suresh Raina, like Yuvraj Singh, has been in and out of the Test squad. The selectors feel that he has overcome his diffidence in negotiating the bouncer. The long tour should also help him to prepare for the World Cup. With a fit Rohit Sharma back, he may not be able to walk straight into the Test eleven.
Just as Karn Sharma forced his way into the Test squad, Axar Patel should do so for the tri-series to press his claims for a World Cup berth. Railwayman from Uttar Pradesh, Karn Sharma, who has a penetrative googly, should get better bounce on the Australian pitches than Amit Mishra. Dhoni favourite Ravindra Jadeja has left no room for Pragyan Ojha.
*Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected]