The Men in Blue are on a high after their successful campaign in Pakistan where they won both the Test and the ODI series by a convincing margin. Team India has made giant strides in international cricket in the recent past, a fact acknowledged by the many ratings.
However, the most important aspect that has been added to the team's kitty is "benchstrenghth", something which was the hegemony of the Australian team alone for many years. It was said that it was easy to move out of the Aussie squad more easily than one could get in to it. Such was the level of competition there that irrespective of name and stature (exceptions are there in Doug Walters and Mark Waugh), it was performance that counted most, as the Australian selection panel was never the one to give in to sentiments.
India too seems to have developed the same traits and are facing an embarrassment of riches in all departments except the wicketkeeper's slot. The fact that the team could pull off a series win without their full playing eleven in Pakistan is a pointer in this case. They almost did the same in Australia though the series win eluded them.
The emergence of two young fast bowlers in Irfan Pathan and Laxmipathy Balaji has given new teeth to the Indian pace attack. Things have come to such a stage that there is no place for pace spearhead Zaheer Khan in the side! So too the case with the injury-prone Ashish Nehra. The hero of Adelaide Test Ajit Agarkar also finds it tough to find a regular place in the team.
The fact that Balaji himself came in to the side as a last-minute replacement for the injured Avishkar Salvi makes the tale more intriguing. The much-maligned Indian pace attack has now become fearsome enough to send shivers down the opposing batsmen's spine.
In the spin department too, there is intense competition for place in the side with the resurrection of Anil Kumble. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who is nursing a finger injury, will not be an automatic choice when he comes back, what with the likes of Powar, Parida, Kartik and Lahiri battling it out.
In the batting department, the opener's slot had always been a headache for India. However, what one saw in the Rawalpindi Test might have taken everybody by surprise. India could afford the luxury of dropping a regular opener in Aakash Chopra to make way for wicketkeeper-batsman Parthiv Patel to open the innings so that they could strengthen the middle-order. Though the horses for courses policy paid off, it must be said that the move cannot be seen as a long-term one.
The situation is far different from the one that prevailed earlier, where the absence of a regular player badly affected the morale as well as the performance of the Indian team. There were no ideal replacements at that time. Now, things have changed to such an extent that not even the established stars are certain of winning back their position after an injury lay-off as their replacements might have grabbed their opportunity with both hands.
One must be forced to admit that Sourav Ganguly could win back his place for the Rawalpindi Test by virtue of being the captain alone. If form and fitness had been the criteria, he would have had to face the 'ignominy' of watching the action from the pavilion.
The reticent Indian coach John Wright was candid while admitting that 'it's a nice problem to have with'. Former players as well as those closely watching the fortunes of the team too would agree. Team India has plenty of riches now at its disposal. If these resources are properly marshalled, it may not take much time for them to unseat the Kangaroos from the top spot. They almost did it Down Under. Finally, it was a slip between the cup and the lip. They have one more chance in the return series in October. Till that time, since the country isn't having any international commitments, one hopes that the new-found skill, talent and resilience don't go abegging.