Bengaluru, November 20
An expressionless Virat Kohli gave a quick handshake and hug to an equally expressionless Shubman Gill before going to collect his runners-up medal. It was the most poignant moment of a teary Sunday night for the Indian cricket team.
It, perhaps, was the most visible sign of the imminent generational shift in Indian cricket after the hosts failed to grasp a third World Cup.
Of course, veterans such as Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Mohammed Shami might be around for some more time, but now it is up to a younger crop to take the team forward and build a new legacy unscarred from the past failures.
Gill (24), Shreyas Iyer (28), Ishan Kishan (25), Ruturaj Gaikwad (26) and Yashasvi Jaiswal (21) will soon, hopefully, be joined by a recovering Rishabh Pant (26) as India will hit the road to the T20 World Cup 2024 and beyond.
These players already have considerable experience at top level cricket and have showcased their talent more than once, but living up to the heritage of titans like Kohli and Rohit is not a simple task.
These players have built some tall edifices over the last decade and half, symbolising their skill, durability and mental fortitude in the high-pressure world of modern-day sports.
That they had to cope with the extra burden of captaincy on their shoulders, makes their achievements all the more glittering. An empathetic leader with conviction is the driving force behind a team in any sport.
So, in whom India should make investment as the future leader?
Former India batsman Robin Uthappa thought Shreyas could be the one who fits into that role.
“Shreyas Iyer has demonstrated significant dedication and confidence. He appears quite impressive, particularly at the No. 4 position.
“If he keeps up this level of performance, it wouldn’t be astonishing to see him lead the Indian team, especially in white-ball cricket,” said Uthappa in his YouTube channel.
However, that is just one part of the journey into the future. With the T20 World Cup in the USA and the West Indies fast approaching, the temptation would be high for tunnel thinking with just that tournament in mind.
But that could be the biggest mistake the powers that be can commit.
Apart from next year’s T20 World Cup, the current international cycle (2023-2027) will see India competing in three major global white-ball events – the Champions Trophy 2025, co-hosting 2026 T20 big bash with Sri Lanka and then in the 50-over World Cup in 2027.
So, India will require careful team building around the players who can sustain themselves under pressure and last the race.
“That’s right. India might not have the services of their big players for a long time now. The authorities will have to plan well in advance for the next three or four years, give consistent chances to young players like Jaiswal and Gaikwad so that they are mentally ready when a big tournament comes around,” a former India selector told PTI.
“It is important to keep the communication clear with all the players, tell them in advance that we are going to stick with you for this much period of time and we will give you this many chances no matter what your performances are.
“It is important to keep a player in the loop because uncertainty can affect a cricketer’s mind and thereby his performance. But again it all depends on how hungry they are for success,” he added.
That theory is applicable when it comes to finding the successors of lead spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who are not at the flush of their youth at 37 and 34 respectively.
Kuldeep Yadav’s strong re-emergence could offer a smidgeon of comfort to the think-tank, but they will have to discover a strong partner for the left-arm wrist spinner.
Apart from Axar Patel, India really have not given a considerable run to any other spinner in recent ye
ears, and they might also want to look at the likes of leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi and left-arm spinner Saurabh Kumar soon to develop the support line.
“Yes, there is a bit of an issue. As I said, they need a consistent run, you know, that chance to succeed or fail. Hope they will get it,” he noted.
Evolution is the most complex passage in sport and we could be in for an enthralling time as Indian cricket is ready to embrace it.