India’s tour of Sri Lanka: Future roadmap of Indian cricket
While India’s senior and leading cricket stars are in England waiting for their next series to begin, another Indian cricket team is in Sri Lanka at present. The second-string Indian cricket team will be playing ODI and T20I series against Sri Lanka from July 13 to July 25 as per the schedule announced by the BCCI. In the absence of regular captain Virat Kohli, the team will be led by Shikhar Dhawan, and Rahul Dravid will coach the side.
Virat Kohli-led first choice Indian cricket team travelled to England to play the World Test Championship Final against New Zealand and 5-match Test series against England. In the second half of June, the WTC final saw Kane Williamson-led New Zealand winning the most anticipated Test of the year with flying colours. Since Indian cricketers are scheduled to face England in the upcoming Test series starting on August 4, they have not returned home in the break. Indian cricketers will travel back after completing the series, and this decision had been taken keeping covid protocols in mind. Clearly, the Indian cricket board couldn’t send their first playing eleven to the island country for the limited-series tour. The pandemic has already impacted the cricket world quite a lot since 2020. Therefore, instead of skipping the tour, the BCCI decided to second a second line-up to Sri Lanka. While this decision did not go well with Sri Lanka initially, the BCCI’s idea seemed to strengthen the future of Indian cricket.
The squad for the Sri Lanka tour includes Shikhar Dhawan (Captain), Prithvi Shaw, Devdutt Padikkal, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Suryakumar Yadav, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Nitish Rana, Ishan Kishan (Wicket-keeper), Sanju Samson (Wicket-keeper), Yuzvendra Chahal, Rahul Chahar, K Gowtham, Krunal Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Varun Chakravarthy, Bhuvneshwar Kumar (Vice-captain), Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini, Chetan Sakariya. These players will take on the Sri Lanka cricket team for three ODIs and as many as T20Is. Although this squad does not boast of the major crunch of Indian superstars as mentioned above, this has white-ball specialists like Shikhar Dhawan and Hardik Pandya. While the fans will follow this tour with the same intensity, these players will focus. These names have been in the radar for some time and are familiar by now. These are the players Indian cricket management looks up to when they need to look for a backup. No wonder the management, the selectors, and the board will be following the performances in Sri Lanka. Choosing Rahul Dravid as the coach for the tour is also meaningful. The National Cricket Academy head has the experience of dealing with most of these players earlier at some level. He will be the perfect one to check on the progress.
But why did the BCCI think of a second-string team?
Would saying no to this series hurt a lot? Probably, no. Was the unavailability of the first eleven the sole reason? Well, no.
Indian cricket team, at present, is undoubtedly one of the top three teams in the world. The Kiwis beat them in the WTC Final, but that did not take the glory from them. There are quite a few gaps that need to be taken care of, but the Indian cricket team being one of the best contemporary cricket teams, does not change a bit. Virat Kohli and his men registered great feats over the last few years, and the aim for them is now to continue with the same at the same pace. If they want to do that, having a steady flow of upcoming players is very important. This should help the team with a strong base of reserve players. The second-string team will prepare this set of players who will be ready to perform on the international stage immediately. In the absence of the regular players for injury or other reasons, the team management will not bother much and can opt for the second set with confidence.
Indian cricketers are easily one of the busiest groups of cricketers considering the amount of international cricket they play round the year and IPL, which covers close to two months of the year. This increases the chance of injuries. Fatigue from the schedule can also impact fitness, and the players take breaks from few matches or even the entire series.
On the other hand, Indian cricket already has a strong A-team structure. The structure has helped in the growth and showed the outcome in the last few years. Under the coaching of Rahul Dravid, the transition has been really smooth from Under 19 to India A to the national side. In fact, during the last England series, players like Surya Kumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, and Axar Patel delivered immediately, the result was vivid. In the upcoming series against Sri Lanka, the reserve bench will be tested at the international stage. The players who have proved themselves at various levels already (domestic level and Indian Premier League) will now get the opportunity to showcase their class at the international level. There are senior players like Dhawan, Pandya, Kumar, Chahal but the major base is mostly fresh and still new to international cricket. Under the guidance of Rahul Dravid, if they manage to do well in Sri Lanka, the BCCI can definitely be more hopeful about the future of Indian cricket.
Another reason this tour can be effective and why the second-string squad can benefit India is the pandemic protocols. Due to the pandemic situation since last year, the isolation process and bio-bubble have been major parts of the sporting world. The players have to follow strict protocols, including a prolonged isolation process. They have to be in bio-bubble for days which has a severe impact on their mental health. The long bio-bubble stays have forced multiple cricketers across the nations to quit matches since last year. They have to be without family, are not allowed to meet anyone from outside the bubble. Just being in a bubble with the same set of people, even if family members, can be depressing and the pandemic has been a prove. As a result, more and more players may opt for breaks, and hence keeping a pool of 25-30 players ready to perform at the international stage should be helpful. The restrictions also mean arriving in a place and being isolated for the first few days. In the case of series with not many breaks in between, it is difficult for the cricketers to travel, follow the protocols, and get ready for the games in time. Clearly, having a second-string team of the same calibre (well, almost) can be helpful.
Indian team management and the BCCI are looking forward to this series to have a more peaceful and better future for the Indian cricket team in the new normal. Indian cricket team will also be treated as one of the favourites in the T20 World Cup in October this year. The limited-series tour of Sri Lanka will be an acid Test for multiple cricketers eager to cement their place in the World Cup squad and will utilize the opportunity well.