Vijay Lokapally

The onus is not on individual brilliance any more, only collective performance

INDORE: The boys have grown. Rahul Dravid has succeeded in whipping up a combination that knows its potential lies in collective performance. The onus is not on individual brilliance any more. When Yuvraj Singh exclaims, "come on boys" he only underlines the spirit of the team. "We believe in each other," says the flamboyant left-hander.

Belief in each other is the mantra of this team that demolished England 5-1 as it explored the best possible pool of players for the World Cup. "It is one year away but you need to prepare," says Dravid.

Flexibility is the team's strength. At any given point, there are six to seven players who can bat anywhere. Barring Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, none has a fixed batting slot. On a seaming track the team has Dravid promoting himself; on a flat surface, there is Yuvraj and Mahender Singh Dhoni to take charge at the top.

Rich investments

The team management has made some rich investments in talent like Suresh Raina, S. Sreesanth, Robin Uthappa and Dhoni. The target is not just the World Cup but also a desire to be acknowledged as a team that plays good cricket.

There was a method to the manner in which India tested its potential champions in various conditions. The pitches were not ideal in the first three matches but the argument was that they were quite similar to tracks likely to be encountered in the West Indies.

The quality of the opposition was a factor that influenced India's approach. At no stage did Dravid get carried away with the result, for it had not come against the best team in the world. England too was in transition and was weakened by the absence of a few like Marcus Trescothick and Steve Harmison.

Share of problems

India had its share of problems. With Tendulkar out injured, Sehwag and Mohammad Kaif's repeated failures tested the team management. It came to a point where both were `rested' for the final encounter. A blessing in disguise, the move allowed Uthappa to showcase his talent and Raina to climb the order and stake his claims at No. 4.

The triumph was a culmination of a series of experiments, if one could term it so. Sri Lanka was World No. 2 when it was thrashed 6-1. The 2-2 draw with South Africa, then World No. 2, was a setback at home but what followed was flattering.

Pakistan was conquered 4-1 away from home and now this 5-1 verdict. From March 2002 until November 2005, India had not won any bilateral series at home losing to Pakistan, Australia and the West Indies.

Yuvraj's progress

Yuvraj's progress was exemplary, given the fact that he was not considered an integral part of the World Cup preparation despite his prolific scoring in the last one year. The left-hander felt the pressure from the new coach but emerged unscathed to reaffirm his ability to take on any challenge. He deserves the No. 3 slot in this combination and his matured knock on Saturday only underlined this aspect.

Irfan Pathan's solidity at No. 3 meant that the team could enjoy a few more options. Players like Dravid, Yuvraj, Pathan, Dhoni and Raina have the ability to bat at any position and this can be the strength of the side in pressure situations. Raina gave enough evidence of his capabilities by matching his senior partners with match-winning partnerships.

Significant gain

The most significant gain for India was its successful strategy of including five specialist bowlers in the playing eleven. Pathan, Sreesanth, R.P. Singh, V.R.V. Singh and Ramesh Powar formed the India attack at Indore with Yuvraj as the second spin option. The team also benefits from Tendulkar and Sehwag's bowling when required.

"In times of distress, we have a few more guys to fall back upon," observes Dravid even as he admits that some more time is needed to identify the nucleus of the squad that will travel for the World Cup.

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