By Yajurvindra Singh
The Indian cricket team has done magnificently well with their resounding win over England in all formats of the game. The Test series was important since a convincing series win was required for India to qualify for the World Test Championship final against New Zealand in June.
India, having lost the first Test match, came back forcefully to win the series. To win both the T20 and the ODI series after that against the strong England limited-overs side was a remarkable feat.
The heroes involved in this success were the young Indian brigade. The most destructive and devastating of all was Rishabh Pant. The wicketkeeper-batsman, having done an incredible task of taking India to one of their most enthralling wins against Australia, proved to be England's nemesis.
His batting controlled the middle-order and in both the Test and the limited overs series, the English bowlers were clobbered by him.
One marvelled at how Pant left them in complete disarray and were amazed with his 360 degrees stroke-play along with his gang-buster approach. He was similar to a Bollywood film hero, who took on a gang of villains by the swash-buckling swing of his bat and acrobatic body and leg movements to dispatch the English bowlers to all corners of the field.
The bio-secure bubble may have been boring and frustrating for the cricketers, but it proved to be blessing in disguise for Indian cricket. The selected squad of players needed the Indian side to have additional bowlers and batsmen accompanying them because of the restrictions imposed due to the virus. Many of the aspiring India 'A' players were therefore made a part of the Indian cricket squad. This turned out to be beneficial for India, as players who were there to assist the main squad were also in line to replace an injured player or ones who had lost form.
This was rarely the case earlier as immediate replacement was a difficult alternative, especially on the eve of a match.
The success stories of Shubman Gill, Washington Sundar, Rishabh Pant, Mohammed Siraj, Axar Patel, Shardul Thakur, T. Natrajan, Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, Prasidh Krishna and Krunal Pandya are a result of the situation that the Covid-19 pandemic caused.
These Indian cricketers have proved that India is now blessed with a talented pool of cricketers who, on a given day, are ready to rub shoulders with the best. The BCCI needs to be congratulated for creating this structure. The India 'A' and India U19's frequent visits to play overseas and most importantly the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been the prime reason for this success.
The healthy competition that has arisen between the established, senior cricketers and the young, aspiring ones has made Indian cricketers tougher, more positive and confident. Playing with and against the best in the IPL and in matches abroad has negated that element of doubt of whether one is ready for the big stage.
The World Test Championship final against New Zealand on June 18 in Southampton should now be the main focus of the BCCI. This is India's best-ever Test side, as Sunil Gavaskar recently commented.
Coming from Gavaskar, it means a lot. He has been involved with Indian cricket for more than 50 years and has seen many generations of Indian sides come and go. India's current coach Ravi Shastri, an accomplished cricketer himself, has on numerous occasions also emphasised this. Looking back at the way India defeated Australia and England, they do look like a formidable unit. They now need to showcase their superiority by defeating New Zealand in the final in England. India will then be truly recognised as the "champion of champions".
The BCCI, in the meanwhile, will conduct the most colourful and popular T20 league, the IPL. At the end of the year, India will be hosting the T20 World Cup. This, therefore, makes IPL a very important tournament not only for foreign International cricketers but also for Indian cricketers.
The IPL will be important for India's established cricketers to cement their place in the Indian side and for the aspiring ones to claim a spot.
The foreign players and the support staff will use this opportunity to get acclimatised to the conditions. Their input will be crucial for their national teams in the planning, preparation and strategising for the T20 World Cup.
The 2021 IPL will also provide much-needed entertainment to the fans in these times of Covid-19 pandemic. For millions of viewers saddled with curfews and lockdowns, cricket will be the April showers which one is looking forward to.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)