The most positive aspect of India's series victory over Australia was the unveiling of the bench strength. I have always believed the bench strength is strong and that is why there will be nothing really nothing to worry about in Indian cricket once the stalwarts of many years call it a day. This is also one reason why India are the No 1 Test team in the rankings.
There is a lot of depth in Indian cricket at the moment and that is why I wrote in an earlier article that the cynics who advocate that the Indians are a wobbly No 1, that they are just hanging in there by the proverbial slender thread and that they don't give the impression of lasting very long at the top might be in for a surprise.
Just consider these facts. Yuvraj Singh is ruled unfit to play a Test in Sri Lanka, Suresh Raina is drafted in and promptly scores a hundred on debut. An injured Gautam Gambhir is out of the second Test against Australia, Murali Vijay is his replacement and he gets a maiden Test hundred. VVS Laxman for the same reason is out of the Bangalore game and Cheteshwar Pujara hits a match winning 72.
Speaking of Pujara, I thought Raina was a picture of confidence as he made his century on debut some three months ago but the 22- year-old Rajkot-born batsman's confidence almost bordered on arrogance. Drafted into international cricket with a first class average of 60 he batted with a swagger and just sailed into the bowling displaying no signs of nerves at all.
It is only the batting reserve strength that has been tested and come out with flying colours but believe me there is enough depth in the pace and spin bowling departments too. None, not even the most established stars can take their places for granted. Yuvraj not too long too a front runner for the No 6 slot will now have to concentrate on limited overs cricket and, for all his talent, will have to fight his way back into the Test side.
Harbhajan Singh too had better watch out. His bowling of late hasn't inspired confidence. He appears to have lost his stinging powers. The 'bite' has inexplicably gone from his bowling and his career average below 28 not many years ago is now approaching the 32 mark. And as the series against Australia has shown, Pragyan Ojha has made rapid strides. Add to this the presence of Piyush Chawla, Amit Mishra and Ravichandran Ashwin not to forget Murali Kartik who is not without his admirers and it can be seen why the 30-year-old Indian spin spearhead will have to be on his toes if he wants to remain that.
The scenario in the pace bowling department is very encouraging, probably next to the batting. Here too an injured Ishant Sharma could not play at Bangalore and there was a ready replacement in S Sreesanth. The hugely talented paceman from Kerala has oodles of talent, a natural outswinger and the perfect wrist movement and if only he could develop a proper attitude, concentrate fully on his bowling and not indulge in needless theatricals he would be a permanent in the side.
Even so, there are a number of fast bowlers around – both young and promising and others with proven skill – and this depth is enough assurance that the team will always have a better than adequate pace attack. Like the batting and spin bowling, they too had a notable role in the series triumph and Zaheer Khan continues to be at the peak of his powers while Ishant can be pretty hostile at times.
But, while the bench strength rose to the occasion it must be said that the stars too played their part. Little need be said about Sachin Tendulkar who in the evening of his career – though one is increasingly hesitant of that phrase – is enjoying a purple patch. Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman and Raina all had their moments while Zaheer Khan, as I said, continues to perform in keeping with his reputation. MS Dhoni is still the man with the Midas touch but as I said in an earlier column, too much should not be made of his good fortune. I sometimes feel that Dhoni as well as Gary Kirsten have not been given enough credit for their contributions as captain and coach.
The series victory over Australia means that India will start another year as No 1. As I said, the cynics might be in for a surprise but following the latest triumph the disbelievers could perhaps now be counted on the fingers of one hand. The performance of the stars and the promise of the bench strength are factors enough to have the growing belief that this is a team that is going to be perched on top for a long time.