A tour of the West Indies between the World Cup and the IPL on the one
hand, and the rather more newsworthy tour of England on the other, was
always going to be like a meagre piece of cheese in a sandwich - the
kind where you only have a bit left and four slices of bread to spread
it over! So I wasn't surprised that a few players opted to stay out;
when you can't eat everything you are served you pick the food you like
It did however, allow the youngsters to be tested in relatively calmer waters and that is a luxury you are rarely allowed. And most of the batsmen, brought up on one-day cricket, discovered that the going can be tough. It is a realisation that is best arrived at early and best discovered rather than taught. Some players will become better for the experience, while others will buckle under with self-doubt. That is the way of evolution and that is why I was always positive about this series.
These players would have seen how Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman handle situations and in the West Indies, where there is little else to do, this bonding will hopefully be invaluable. The likes of Abhinav Mukund and Virat Kohli could emerge bruised but stronger.
Suresh Raina was the major beneficiary. He doesn't always convince everyone of his ability to bat at this level but he is a keener, tougher cricketer than he suggests sometimes. I suspect it was going to be a shootout between him and Kohli for the last batting slot until the selectors decided Yuvraj Singh deserved another chance and he grabbed it. Yuvraj is befriending grit and that is not a bad thing, for it will be much needed in England.
It was the bowling, however, that raised two cheers even as it threw up an unsettling question. Praveen Kumar, in spite of his amiable pace, showed he can belong at this level and can bowl with an oldish ball. The real bonus, though, was the bowling of Ishant Sharma. In a land of medium-pacers his extra speed is vital and for that he must be in rhythm. Everything else follows for him as we saw in the second Test.
But Harbhajan Singh needs to look inward a bit more. The first Test should have been his with the ball turning and bouncing like it would in an off-spinner's dream. He is not the youngest anymore and though spinners last a bit longer, he is past the halfway point of his career. It is a time when the best cricketers reinvent themselves and if he does, India will be very well served.
Harsha Bhogle, is writing in his role as a Castrol Index spokesperson.