New Delhi, June 17 -- When India lost the home series to Pakistan at the end of 2012 it capped a horror two years following their 2011 ODI World Cup triumph. They'd been humbled in England, in Australia, in Bangladesh, and then, finally even on home soil. Things were at an all-time low. The word transition was being used to describe them. So now, less than six months later the transition period seems to have been over. In the mean time Sachin Tendulkar retired from ODIs, Virender Sehwag was shown the door. Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh were also out.
If this Champions Trophy is any indication, India have already found the core of the team that will defend the World Cup in two years Down Under.
Skipper MS Dhoni seems to have found a second wind as leader. No longer is it about playing it cool and letting the big names do what they do best. The new Dhoni is now a senior statesman. He protects his teammates, encourages them, guides them and has their undivided attention. He's the only player above 30 in this youthful set up, and he too is just 31.
The big problem in the series against Pakistan, and even earlier, was the patchy form of the openers. India just wasn't getting the start. In Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma they have found a pair that looks like it's here to stay.
Even while India was suffering humiliating losses in the CB Series in Australia and in the Asia Cup in Bangladesh, Virat Kohli was one who enhanced his reputation. His pedigree stays beyond doubt.
Suresh Raina may not have got the chance to do much in the Champions Trophy, with only one innings so far, but earlier he was the form player as India beat England 3-2. Dinesh Karthik is making a comeback, and after getting back-to-back tons in the warm ups, he has looked solid in the limited time he's spent in the tournament proper. Out of the side for a long-time, with Dhoni's iron grip on the wicket-keeping gloves, DK has reinvented himself as middle-order batsman.
No player's stock, though, has risen quicker and higher, than that of Ravindra Jadeja's. With Yuvraj Singh no longer in the scheme of things, Jadeja's role becomes pivotal. Like Yuvraj in the 2011 World Cup, Jadeja has been India's man of the series here so far. His bowling has reached levels far superior to Yuvraj, although as a batsman Yuvraj's record was much better.
Ash the leader
R Ashwin is the unquestioned leader on the spin attack, with Jadeja as his partner in crime and the option of Raina or Rohit rolling their arm over.
The pace combination has worked well. Bhuvneshwar Kumar's role is well-defined with Dhoni often bowling him out in the first 20 overs when the ball is swinging. Ishant Sharma is the leader of this attack, and while his length can still be infuriatingly short at times, he's getting it right more often than not.
Umesh Yadav is the wildcard that every team needs. Dhoni has said that he expects Umesh to out-think the batsman more often. But, he also maintained that he doesn't want him to overthink and lose his pace. The World Cup is less than two years away and barring injury or a sudden dip this is pretty much the team that will carry a billion hopes. Going by the evidence in the Champions Trophy, they're about ready.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.