A perfect pivot to changing times in Indian cricket

A perfect pivot to changing times in Indian cricket | Acrux Sports

Ravindra Jadeja might have scored 175* runs and picked nine wickets in Mohali, but it doesn't imply he knows it all in the eyes of Rohit Sharma. At least not when it comes to lapping up the applause. For, when Jadeja was leading the team back after his five-wicket haul, Rohit tapped on his shoulder and jovially suggested he raise the ball to the pavilion terrace instead. That's where most of the crowd was, and coincidentally the TV camera too.

But once Jadeja turned the right way, it made for a picture-perfect moment on TV: Jadeja walking a few paces ahead and saluting the ball to the crowd as the rest of his teammates applauded and cheered from behind. But there was something else that stood out beyond the aesthetics in the frame - the sheer number of match-winners that India still have in their ranks. Fortunately, most of them had a say in this Mohali Test.

In that bunch behind Jadeja was Virat Kohli, who was in the middle of his 100th Test appearance in what's been an unforgiving era of constant cricket. Then there was Ravichandran Ashwin, who would hours later go past Kapil Dev's wicket tally and become India's second-most successful bowler. There was Rishabh Pant too, the wicket-keeper batter with a case history so convincing that India could promote him to No. 5 and not be surprised by the audacious run-a-ball 96 he churns out.

Not to forget Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, who once again looked at home on a pitch that had nothing in it for them. How Bumrah got Charith Asalanka with a surprise off-cutter was reminiscent of his famous dismissal of Shaun Marsh at the MCG. Pacy 140 kph deliveries from round-the-wicket to the left-hander and oops, the sixth one gets him. Shami, to no one's surprise, had a moment to match in the second innings, when he got the ball seaming away and had Dimuth Karunaratne caught behind. That moment perhaps sealed the fate of the match on the third evening itself.

Then there was Jadeja himself, returning to Mohali for his third successive Player of the Match performance. "Good vibes here," he put it down to but it must take more than that to notch up your highest Test score, only to come back in a fresh set of whites, spin a few balls from within the line of the stumps, the others not so much, and leave the field with a bunch of wickets too.

Rohit may have missed out on the runs but on his first Test as India captain, but he made it up with some excellent moves as captain. Starting with giving Hanuma Vihari his time in the sun at No.3, bringing Ashwin into the game as soon as the fifth over that India bowled and then sticking with some very intelligent fields over the course of the Test.

The best case in point is the two fielders he had for Niroshan Dickwella's sweep against Jadeja. Even better, the deep square leg he had was very close-in and as Sunil Gavaskar explained on air, one couldn't have been faulted for having that man further back because the ball was spinning into the batter, so the sweep was expected to go deeper. Dickwella swept straight to the where Rohit had the man.

It wouldn't have been out of place to call this the "perfect Test match" but Rohit stopped short of doing that. He clearly has more on his mind and it doesn't stop at the current crop of players doing well. No wonder Jayant Yadav, the third spinner in the side, got a fairer trial in the second innings. You can expect that from a captain who spoke about "grooming" a successor in one of his first press conferences and is focused on building for the future.

At the post-match presentation, when Rohit was asked why he took Jadeja off when he was on song and two wickets away from a 10-wicket haul, he had this to say: "No thought process. It was about making sure that we try and utilize all the bowling options we have. Someone like Jadeja and Ashwin, they have played a lot of cricket, taken lots of wickets in India but we want to have other options as well. When those guys won't be available, what are the options for us? So we wanted to make sure he gets to bowl some overs."

To the India captain, it doesn't stop at the playing eleven. "It's not just about 11 players. It's also about the people who are sitting outside, wanting to get their chances. It's about creating that bench strength which is what the future of Indian cricket will hold. If you create that bench strength and you start thinking from now, then Indian cricket will be in good hands. And that is one of my challenges and one of my responsibilities that I've taken upon myself, to create that bench strength as much as possible... but of course keeping in mind the guys who are playing.

"We've got two of our stalwarts in Rahane and Pujara missing out. Saha is not here, Ishant is not here. So it's a relatively very young and new side, and it's the same in limited overs as well. A lot of guys are missing, a lot of new faces have come in. So for me, I think it's going to be my biggest challenge, more than in fact winning games. What will be important is how I approach those guys who are sitting outside and how I can get them in a good mindset.

"You can't just say you have to win games. But to win games, there are a lot of things that you need to do - create bench strength, give clarity to the people, create a good environment so that it's a nice and happy atmosphere where people want to go out there and do their job. They shouldn't feel too much pressure. Of course, as long as you're playing international cricket, pressure will be there but the external pressures shouldn't be there. Internal pressure is fine.

"And we'll try and back them as much as possible, so that at the end of the day when they come back home, they feel that okay, you know what, I got my opportunity, if I didn't do well I'm still happy. There was a lot of clarity in the role that was given to me."

Rohit certainly walked that talk in this Test match. The win perfectly captured where India are coming from and where they want to go. Their bunch of bonafide match-winners stood up in a pivotal game, but the captain is clearly casting his net much wider with an eye on the future. And thankfully somebody is, for then the rest of us can put our feet up and watch this current bunch until the next one comes along. That time might not be as far away as you think.