Despite the 4-0 ODI drubbing, the Indian skipper will look ahead to the first Test in Auckland with more optimism than dread.
For, despite being just two matches into the post-Tendulkar era, the Test team already seems to carry a more settled look to it, especially the middle-order. The same middle-order that was expected to resemble the Grand Canyon after the departure of the celebrated ‘Fab Four’. Such was the paranoia regarding those four slots that the warning bells had begun sounding even while Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly were at their peak. With knocks of courage and composure, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane ensured that those worries were unfounded in Johannesburg and Durban.
Murali Vijay, meanwhile, proved that he had the temperament and the talent to succeed in testing climes. Rohit Sharma may have failed against the Proteas but still remains a core member of India’s new guard.
Ironically, the same lot, the GenNext of Indian cricket, have failed to carry out the transition as seamlessly in the ODI format. Strange, considering that you would have expected it to be a far more natural progression for this lot bred in the T20 age.
If they hadn’t already converted a middle-order batsman into an opener, Rohit was joined by Kohli for the fourth ODI in Hamilton with Shikhar Dhawan having been benched. It was an anti-climactic culmination to an enigmatic rollercoaster ride that had seen the opener transform into a moustachioed superman before returning to his normal self, moustache still in place. It was also a telltale sign of a team suffering a severe upheaval only a year after they had decided to move on from the old guard. Incidentally, the spots vacated by Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh still remain ominously vacant without settled replacements.
If the rout by the Kiwis wasn’t damning enough there are more worrying signs with the World Cup just a year away. Starting with the fact that neither the openers nor those manning the middle, from Rahane to Rayudu, at present fill you with any confidence of a potential resurrection.
Bharat is a principal correspondent, based in Mumbai.