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Chance for youngsters to come good

Big rewards await youngsters if they can take charge in tough situations, writes Geoff Boycott



KEEP THE GOOD TIMES GOING: England will be hoping to carry over its winning form from the last Test into the one-day series. — Photo: AP

For me, the most interesting aspect of the TVS Cup ODI series starting on Tuesday is the fact that both India and England are in a state of flux as they enter a phase that I think is the countdown to the World Cup.

The calendar may say it's a year away, but a year isn't much in cricket, and what intrigues me is that neither England nor India can name 14 players who are sure to be fit and ready for the big one.

Let's take India first. There's Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag at the top, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif in the middle, and Irfan Pathan and M.S. Dhoni lower down.

You will obviously have noticed the absence of Sachin Tendulkar from that list, but at the rate his body's behaving, can anyone confidently say that he will take the field in a year? Seems to me they'll have to put him together with glue, because his body is winding up after 16 years of wear and tear.

But he's still the hub of the Indian wheel though he won't be there for another two months for sure.

Five positions up for grabs

Which means that there are at least five positions in the team that are up for grabs, because the spinners aren't exactly pulling up any trees, particularly Harbhajan Singh, and Greg Chappell seems to have got rid of Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, so there are these three young seamers in the side. They may have performed very creditably in the Tests, but ODIs bring their own brand of pressure, and because it is a batting game, bowlers need tremendous levels of mental toughness.

India's young quicks have not been in to many situations when good length deliveries have been thrashed for sixes, which is what Andrew Flintoff can do if he gets going. In Tests, batsmen block good length balls. In ODIS, they don't give a toss. Every bowler, even the best in the world, gets whacked in a one-day game, and that, coupled with the ultra-rigid no ball and wide rules, test a bowler quite severely.

So India's bowlers will undergo a stern examination in the next seven matches. It will be exciting to find out whether they have the `bottle', as we say in Yorkshire, for a one-sided fight in which they can't stop the batsmen from scoring, but merely ensure that they don't score too many.

A lot of youngsters reveal an absence of plan B in such situations, so the coach is surely working on that.

England have a similar problem. Of the current team, the only certainties for the World Cup are Andrew Strauss, Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff, Steven Harmison and perhaps James Anderson.

Like Sachin, Simon Jones is beginning to acquire injuries with monotonous regularity, so one can't call him a certainty, and there are Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick back home.

All this means that this series is a lifetime's opportunity for the youngsters to impress the coach and skipper. If they can take charge in tough situations and come out smiling, their pot of gold awaits them in the form of a probable World Cup berth.

My bet is that we'll find a few lesser-known players from both sides emerge from the shadows to become stars because they can no longer hide behind the big boys.

Gameplan

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