Winning Bizness Sports Desk
India is in the midst of its 2023-24 cricket season when it has two major international tournaments on its schedule. The first is the Asia Cup (August-September) to be played majorly in Sri Lanka with a miniscule number of matches in Pakistan. India will, however, play all its matches only in Sri Lanka—at least that is how things stand presently.
The second and the most important tournament is the 50-overs World Cup to be played exclusively in India in October-November. The Indian team is getting primed for both these events, especially the World Cup.
In between, however, India has confirmed its participation in the Asian Games as well—this will take place almost parallelly to the World Cup. And just recently India returned home after participating in the Asian Emerging Cricketers tournament hosted by Sri Lanka. India is the runner-up in the tournament and Pakistan the winner.
This is as far as the men’s team is concerned; their performance despite their loss in the WTC to Australia is still reasonably good and India will be the favourite to lift the Asia Cup and a joint favourite along with Australia and England for the World Cup. This is not to discount other strong teams such as South Africa and New Zealand but the first three-named appear much stronger than the rest of the field.
India’s women cricketers too were in the thick of action and plenty of action at that. The women’s team toured Bangladesh where unfortunately it got mired in controversy.
They started as favourites against Bangladesh but were held to a 1-1 draw in the three-match ODI series. Even this scoreline is flattering as Bangladesh was very close to winning the first match before inexplicably letting its grip slip away from the match.
That a rookie Indian team with only junior players could defeat experienced teams (in the ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup tournament) clearly indicates the level of talent and depth at all levels in Indian men’s cricket.
There are not many positive take-aways for the Indian women’s team from this Bangladesh tour. However, India’s emerging youngsters (men) provided many reasons for optimism.
They fared very well against the Pakistani emerging players team which consisted of many senior players with international experience. Here, a point to be noted is that none of the Indian players had international experience. Taking their youth and inexperience into account, the Indian emerging players acquitted themselves very creditably indeed—despite ending behind Pakistan.
Many Indian boys had come up through the Under-19 ranks while a very few had had IPL experience and that too of only a few games. In comparison to the Pakistanis, the Indian team was virtually a junior team—even age-wise, the Indian players were in the 23-24 range. Tayyab Tahir who scored a century against India in the final is 30-years old while Kamran Ghulam is 27.
More than half a dozen Pakistani players had international experience, though to be fair of only a handful of games. Nevertheless, their players had international experience and international experience is most precious.
Mohammad Haris, their captain had played 5 ODIs and 9 T-20s, while Arshad Iqbal and Kamran Ghulam had each played one international match. Mohammad Wasim Jr was their most experienced player with two Tests, 14 ODIs and 27 T-20s to his credit.
Sahibzada Farhan and Saim Ayub had three and eight T-20s respectively, to their credit, while Shahnawaz Dahani had played 2 ODIs and 11 T-20s. Tayyab Tahir, the hero for Pakistan had also played 3 T-20s.
Other teams—Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan—also had internationals in their ranks. Bangladesh whom India defeated convincingly had the veteran Soumya Sarkar in its ranks. Aged 30, Sarkar had played 16 Tests, 61 ODIs and 72 T-20s while Mahmudul Hasan Joy had played nine Tests.
Another player with international experience was the highly promising Mahedi Hasan whose international record read 3 ODIs and 38 T-20s. With one ODI to his credit, Mrittunjoy Chowdhury was another with international experience.
Host Sri Lanka too had international players including two with Test match experience—Minod Bhanuka and Chamika Karunaratne--both having played one Test each. Additionally, Karunaratne and Bhanuka both had ODI and T-20 experience as well—the former an impressive 23 ODIs and 42 T-20s while the latter had played 6 ODIs and 5 T-20s.
Another Sri Lankan with decent experience was Avishka Fernando with 29 ODIs and 33 T-20s while Ashen Bandara had the experience of six ODIs and five T-20s. Sahan Arachchige with two ODIs was also in the Sri Lankan team.
While India did not play Sri Lanka, it played Pakistan twice and Bangladesh once and beat them both. India defeated Pakistan in the first game before losing in the final. That a rookie Indian team with only junior players could defeat experienced teams clearly indicates the level of talent and depth at all levels in Indian men’s cricket.
Youngsters such as Sai Sudharsan, Yash Dhull, Abhishek Sharma, Nishant Sindhu, Manav Suthar and Rajvardhan Hangargekar, among others, clearly proved their mettle and should be in contention for an India cap in a couple of years’ time.
Special mention should be made of southpaw opener Sai Sudharsan and captain Yash Dhull—both batted beautifully, combining maturity with attractive shot-making and are clearly India hopefuls in a couple of years’ time. Dhull also displayed great captaincy skills and if he continues in the same vein, be not surprised if he is fast-tracked into the senior Indian team soon.
The Indian bowlers also displayed great skill, temperament and maturity—Hangargekar has pace and with a little bit more experience should be a force to reckon with in the future while Sindhu and Suthar have already begun making news on the domestic circuit.
The Indian cricket board (BCCI) should be complimented for sending a young team to get them blooded early to foreign conditions and tough opposition. The Pakistanis, though they won the trophy, missed out on a great chance to test their youngsters against equals and thus their bench strength remains a big question mark.
Youngsters such as Sai Sudharsan, Yash Dhull, Abhishek Sharma, Nishant Sindhu, Manav Suthar and Rajvardhan Hangargekar, among others, have clearly proved their mettle and should be in contention for an India cap in a couple of years’ time.
For the Asian Games to be held in China, the Indians have again sent a young team but with players of greater experience. With the World Cup being held almost simultaneously, India is constrained to send its `A’ team with its seniors exclusively to be selected for the World Cup.
Other teams such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh too will be sending their `A’ teams as their senior teams too will be participating in the World Cup.
The Indian team for the Asian Games led by Ruturaj Gaikwad also has within its ranks the incredibly talented Yashasvi Jaiswal who only recently made his Test debut against the West Indies.
Other proven players include Washington Sundar, Arshdeep Singh, Ravi Bishnoi, Mukesh Kumar, another recent Test debutant and Avesh Khan. Others with a handful of ODI and/or international T-20 experience include the two Shivams—Dube and Mavi—and Shahbaz Ahmed. The latest IPL sensation Rinku Singh also finds himself in the squad along with consistent performer Tilak Varma.
This team is a favourite to lift the gold at the Asian Games.
The same cannot, however, be said of the women’s team. Following India’s inability to beat Bangladesh, other teams such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan too will now fancy their chances against the Indian women’s team.
Normally, at the Asian Games, the Indian women’s cricket team starts as the overwhelming favourite. This time, however, the team could face stiff challenges from other teams, primarily from the big three of Asian cricket—Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The Harmanpreet Kaur-led team’s weaknesses got clearly exposed in this series and unless these are remedied on a priority basis over the next one-month, it is a no-brainer that India will have a tough time at the Asian Games.
Inconsistency has plagued this team in the recent past. It is true that Indian bowlers won the match for the team in the second ODI but then in the first match and the decider, they did not prove effective.
The batters too could not provide the final blast that would have taken the team to an impregnable total. Wickets fell at regular intervals and big names such as Harmanpreet Kaur, Smrithi Mandhana, Yastika Bhatia, Deepti Sharma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Shefali Verma and Pooja Vastrakar, among others, could not impose themselves on the opposition on a consistent basis.
Different players did shine on different occasions but a combined team performance that marks a winner was lacking and this proved costly in the end in the one-day series which ended in a tie.
The Indian women’s cricket team will still start as the overwhelming favourite. However, it will not have things easy this time and will have to put its best foot forward if it has to win gold at the Asian Games. The big three of Asian cricket—Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan are all capable of good cricket and on their day can topple India.
Additionally, Harmanpreet Kaur could miss the first two games of the Asian Games following her suspension for breaching the ICC code of conduct for players during the third one-day match against Bangladesh. India will have to appoint a new captain for these two matches—this forced adjustment could disturb the Indian team’s composition and balance.
The BCCI must pay greater attention to the women’s team and a chief coach must be appointed immediately. A decision on the captaincy for India’s first two matches at the Asian Games must also be taken soon.
Importantly, a decision on Harmanpreet Kaur’s captaincy should also be on its agenda—whether the Board intends to continue with her for the long-term or appoint a new captain to take over the reins from her.
The Indian men’s cricket team, on the cusp of a generational change, still is stable and strong and as always, a favourite to lift the Asia Cup, the Asian Games gold and the World Cup. It is the women’s cricket team that needs hand-holding and guidance through this difficult period.
India’s women cricketers are not bereft of talent and experience—what they need are a string of strong on-field performances. They also need to avoid confrontations with opposing teams’ players and match officials.
The next three-months are very critical for both the Indian cricket teams. Victories will vindicate India’s claim of possessing immense talent and tremendous bench-strength. Defeats will lower morale and raise questions about the Indian cricket board’s direction.