If anyone wants to know what the future holds for Indian cricket, simply rewind to Sep 24 at the New Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg when a youthful, bubbly and excited Indian team stunned the world by winning the inaugural Twenty20 World Championship.
No one gave a speck of a chance to Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team because the Indians have hardly had any worthwhile experience of the shortest version of the game. In fact, the Indian Cricket Board abhorred the very idea of introducing Twenty20 at the international level.
India defeated England, Pakistan (twice), hosts South Africa and the mighty Australia on way to the podium. It must be remembered that they won it without Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly.
For the final against Pakistan, India were without Virender Sehwag, who was injured, and that increased the odds in favour of Shoaib Malik's team.
The triumph has thrown up Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Irfan Pathan, Rudra Pratap Singh, Sreesanth, Yusuf Pathan and Piyush Chawla as the future stars of Indian cricket. They, along with Dhoni and his deputy Yuvraj Singh, make India's bench strength look not only healthy and vibrant but highly talented too.
This list would have been longer if some of the most promising youngsters had not defected to the breakaway Indian Cricket League (ICL). Actually, their defection proves the point that there is enormous talent in the country. Some of the youngsters who have crossed over to ICL said that they had no choice but to find a way to exhibit their talent because there is little room for them in the Indian team.
The positive aspect of it all is that talented players like Parthiv Patel, Cheteshwar Pujara, Manoj Tiwary, Subramaniam Badrinath, Suresh Raina, Ishant Sharma, Pragyan Ojha, Pradeep Sangwan, Yo Mahesh, Vikram Rajvir Singh, Dinesh Karthik, Mohammed Kaif and Pankaj Singh are still fighting it out in domestic cricket. Some of these youngsters have already represented India while the others are vigorously and constantly knocking at the selectors' doors.
Seeing this abundance of talent one can hope for exciting times once the 'Fabulous Five' -- Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Anil Kumble and V.V.S. Laxman -- call it a day. The seniors are unlikely to go beyond 2009, and by that time some of these young men would have matured to take over the mantle under Dhoni's leadership.
Dhoni himself was a product of the India 'A' concept. He performed so well on the tour of Zimbabwe-Kenya a few years ago that he was immediately drafted into the national side. More India 'A' and Under-19 tours overseas will toughen these youngsters to take up bigger challenges. This year, Badrinath, Parthiv, Uthappa, Chawla and Irfan made a big impression on the tour of Zimbabwe and Kenya.
Lanky Rajasthan pacer Pankaj, who did not perform up to his potential on the African safari, bowled exceedingly well in the ongoing Ranji Trophy to capture 28 wickets in seven matches and that booked his passage to Australia with the India team.
Ishant is another lanky pacer who made an instant impact for Delhi in 2006-07 Ranji Trophy and was called to Bangladesh in May where he made his Test debut and later his One-Day International debut against South Africa in Ireland. In the Bangalore Test against Pakistan he has blossomed into a Test-class bowler, claiming his first five-wicket haul.
If so many youngsters are vying to get selected for the Indian team, they should thank the Bangalore-based National Cricket Academy, the selectors and former India coach Greg Chappell.
It was Chappell who fought for the induction of young cricketers. The former Australia captain's philosophy was that since the game is getting younger by the year, the team needs fresh legs/hands/minds who can adapt to the modern day requirements.
With the international calendar getting cramped by the month, Chappell wanted the players to be rotated to extend their careers. His only shortcoming, point out his detractors, was that he perhaps did not convey/execute his policies diplomatically.
Interestingly, the Indian selectors, without giving credit to Chappell, have today adopted the same policy of rotation and talk in terms of giving precedence to youth.
All in all, the future for Indian cricket looks bright.