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Dhoni has built a new, young Team India

Last updated on: March 26, 2013 11:47 IST

Dhoni has built a new, young Team India

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Haresh Pandya

Instead of lamenting the loss of greats, M S Dhoni used the Australia Tests to groom a bunch of youngsters into what could well be the nucleus of a champion outfit, says Haresh Pandya.

Before the first ball was bowled in the just concluded four-Test series against Australia, which ended in Delhi on Sunday, Harbhajan Singh had predicted that India would win 4-0. Those who knew how England had humiliated India in the previous series, those aware of Australia's most feared fighting spirit, did not pay any attention to what the Indian off-spinner said and just laughed at him.

But Harbhajan has the last laugh now as India has indeed won the series 4-0 even though he himself figured in only two Tests and did not do anything noticeable in them.

There are reasons to celebrate India's success even if it may have been achieved against an apparently weaker Australian team. Barring the fact that India was playing at home and enjoyed some advantage, there was little to separate the two sides in terms of talent, might and experience. Except captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Ishant Sharma, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan, rest of the Indian players had relatively little experience of Test cricket. And Sehwag and Harbhajan were dropped after the first two Tests.

Image: MS Dhoni
Photographs: BCCI

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'I'm very happy with the performance of especially the newer players'

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This Indian team was without star batsmen Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Venkatsai Laxman, without match-winning leg-spinner Anil Kumble and without fast bowler Zaheer Khan. While Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman and Kumble have now retired, Zaheer has had injury and fitness problems. Opening batsmen Gautam Gambhir, too, did not figure in any of the Tests as he has been woefully out of form for quite some time now.

Yet, instead of lamenting the loss of those titans and the chasm they have left, Dhoni has taken it as an opportunity and gone about building a young Indian team, which seems to have the nucleus of becoming a major force in world cricket in a couple of years.

"I'm very happy with the performance of especially the newer players," he said after the last nail was hammered in Australia's coffin in Delhi.

Murali Vijay, the prolific opening batsman from Tamil Nadu who made a successful comeback and scored 430 runs at an average of 61.42 in four Tests, seems to have replaced Gambhir.

Image: MS Dhoni
Photographs: BCCI
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'Dhawan has set a very tough task for himself'

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Vijay added 370 runs for the second wicket with Cheteshwar Pujara in the second Test in Hyderabad; and 289 for the first with Shikhar Dhawan in the third in Mohali.

The flamboyant, dynamic Dhawan has it in him to step into Sehwag's shoes, if his explosive 187 on debut in Mohali is any indication. Unfortunately, he got injured while fielding and could not bat in the second innings. Nor could he participate in the fourth Test.

Given his natural swagger, aggression and the nonchalance with which he hits the bowlers, the dusky southpaw looks more like those audacious West Indian batsmen, particularly Roy Fredericks, of the 1970s and 1980s in his approach to batting.

"Dhawan had a great debut. Let's relish it for a while and then see how he shapes up. He has set a very tough task for himself. It's not going to be easy to live up to it. He seems to have nice, easy flair to hit the ball without any hang ups," former India spinner and captain Bishan Singh Bedi told this correspondent.

Image: Shikhar Dhawan
Photographs: BCCI
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Pujara growing in stature

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Pujara never ceases to impress and has been growing in stature in each new series ever since he has returned from injury. With 419 runs at an average of 83.80, he was next only to Vijay. The compact, stylish batsman from Saurashtra has scored 1,180 runs at an average of 65.55 in only 13 Tests so far and appears destined to have a bright future and a brilliant career. Pujara has long answered the question: who after Dravid? Much the same could be said about Virat Kohli, who has now filled the void left by Laxman in the middle-order

Dhoni was, as ever, both rock-like and ruthless at No. 6. He scored a blistering double century (224) in the first Test in Chennai. But it was a pathetic sight to see the way the great Sachin Tendulkar had been struggling for survival, let alone scoring runs, at the crease right through the series even against the type of bowlers he would have massacred in his prime.


Image: Cheteshwar Pujara
Photographs: BCCI
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'Tendulkar has been a burden on the team for the last 10 Tests'

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Except one decent innings of 81, he could not offer even glimpses of his famous class.

"Tendulkar has been a burden on the Indian team for the last 10 Tests – 2 against New Zealand and 4 each versus England and Australia – and the sooner he calls it a day, the better it would be for his own dignity and greatness. Irrespective of his horrendous, wretched form, the selectors continue to pick him on his past reputation. But they keep dropping other players who fail to deliver. Is Tendulkar greater than the game and bigger than the country? At least the selectors seem to think so. But they aren't sending a right message," a renowned Indian player, requesting anonymity, said in an interview.



Image: Sachin Tendulkar
Photographs: BCCI
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Jadeja was the scourge of Clarke

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Australia may have missed its recently retired batting stalwarts Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, but in skipper Michael Clarke, arguably the world's best batsman today, Shane Watson, David Warner, Phillip Hughes and Ed Cowan, it had a set of batsmen capable of playing the Indian bowlers, including spinners.

But, as it transpired, off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, who took 29 and 24 wickets respectively, proved just too good for them, even for Clarke despite the fact that he played two masterly innings of 131 and 91 in the first two Tests.

Most of the Australian batsmen appeared vulnerable against prodigiously, viciously turning balls on the spin-friendly Indian wickets. Jadeja, who is becoming deadlier with the ball with more and more experience, was the scourge of the Australian captain in particular as he dismissed Clarke five times out of six in the series.

Image: Ravindra Jadeja
Photographs: BCCI
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Dhoni praising his promising, performing young brigade

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Though the series was dominated by the spinners, medium-pacers Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar dealt useful blows from time to time and helped Dhoni break Australia's back. Sharma and Kumar may not have got to bowl longer spells in this series, but they will definitely spearhead the Indian attack in South Africa, where the wickets are grassy, hard and bouncy.

When India toured Down Under in 2011-12 under Dhoni, it was outclassed, outmaneuvered and outplayed in batting, bowling, fielding and even strategy in all the four Tests. The Indians lost everything, including pride, and they had no legs to stand on and no place to hide their faces.

A similar fate has befallen the Aussies in this one-sided series in India. But Dhoni did not mention the word 'revenge' in his press conference after India won the fourth and final Test in Delhi within three days and with it the series by a margin of 4-0. Already the most successful Indian captain in terms of number of Test wins, Dhoni just kept praising his promising, performing young brigade.


Image: Team India
Photographs: BCCI
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