"You look at their team and they are very All Black-like," Sri Lanka's interim head coach Nic Pothas said after India's ruthless cross-format trouncing of the hosts in the recently concluded tour of the island nation. Three-nil in the Tests, five-nil in the ODIs, a crushing seven-wicket win in the one-off T20I – these were the mind-boggling stats which Virat Kohli's men achieved during the one-and-a-half month tour of Sri Lanka. The Indians were so clinical and professional in their approach that their attitude was compared with perhaps the most successful rugby team in the world - the "All Blacks".
Interestingly, the facile nature of the contests against an opposition who looked immensely inexperienced and clueless while playing on their home soil also made India's whole approach business-like. All the big names - Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja fired in unison and stepped on the gas when it mattered the most.
Despite such authority and perfectionism from the Men in Blue, lack of fight from the Sri Lankans across formats put a dampener on the excitement of the historic series triumph which was of a rare kind. From India's point of view, however, the three Tests, five ODIs and a one-off T20I was an opportunity to experiment - rotate the batting order, assess the spin-bowling backup options, and check the fast bowling depth in the absence of the likes of Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami. India ticked a few boxes with this series victory but the quality of cricket played by Sri Lankan side didn't really posed any serious questions or tested the character of the Virat Kohli's side.
Next on India's roster are their mighty foes Australia, who will play a limited-overs series in India, which includes five ODIs and three T20Is. The way the Indian team have performed against Sri Lanka, it certainly has raised the level of expectations. But, the series against Australia will be a tough one keeping in mind the level of competition Australia displayed on their last tour of the sub-continent where they played four Test matches. With the likes of David Warner, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Aaron Finch and James Faulkner in the squad - the Australians look like a side to beat and certainly have the power of causing an upset if Indians show any sort of complacency on their part.
Ahead of what is expected to be a gruelling series, let's take a look at some of the key areas of strength for Team India.
During the fifth ODI against Sri Lanka in Colombo, India fielded two wrist spinners in limited-overs cricket - Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, it was a rare occasion in international cricket. Both Chahal and Kuldeep passed the litmus test with flying colours, the duo choked the opponents, gave away just 76 runs between them in 20 overs and picked up two wickets. Leg-spinner Chahal, on his return to the 50-over format after a gap of 14 months, finished the series with five wickets and bowled at an economy rate of 4.70. Chinaman bowler Yadav played two matches, had an economy rate of 3.80 and bagged three scalps.
Axar Patel, also, proved himself as Ravindra Jadeja's like-for-like replacement, the 24-year old all-rounder accounted for six Sri Lankan batsmen and maintained a tidy economy of 3.85 in the ODI series.
The effort of the spinning trio earned a lot of praise from the Indian captain – Virat Kohli, "These guys were brilliant, all three of them. Axar being a conventional spinner (left-arm orthodox) as well… He varied his pace, I think it was outstanding; he didn't let the batsmen get on top of him. Kuldeep and Chahal being wrist spinners will always keep you in the game and are quality bowlers in all formats."
With the 2019 World Cup considered as the next big target, a bigger pool of spinners will provide the selection committee and team management with more options. Also, Virat Kohli's words about India's spinning strength further justifies the selection of the young spinners, he said: "It's going to be a challenge among all the bowlers and the spinners that are going to be part of the bigger group to make it to the 2019 World Cup. As I said, we don't want to be predictable in any way and we want to have an X-factor if possible with the bowling attack as well."
The Indian top-order looks like a settled unit with names like – Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, or skipper Virat Kohli already establishing themselves as modern day stalwarts in limited-overs cricket. Also, former skipper MS Dhoni's form with the bat has also shunned down his critics who were asking questions about his role in Indian cricket team.
However, the real problem arises in the middle-order which has not really been tested in the ODI series against West Indies and Sri Lanka. The likes of KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Ajinkya Rahane and Kedar Jadhav will battle it out for the two positions available in the middle-order. Both Rahul and Jadhav struggled consistently in Sri Lanka series and failed to pick Lanka's mystery spinner Akila Dananjaya. Although, Jadhav scored a half-century in the final ODI but his consistency with the bat is yet a question.
It was only Manish Pandey who looked the most assured among all and grabbed his chances with both hands. He scored an unbeaten half-century in the fourth ODI and also played well on in fifth ODI before falling prey to a poor shot. The 28-year old also scored his maiden T20I fifty versus Sri Lanka in Colombo.
India have never been known for their fast bowling strength since the time we have learned about the gentlemen's game. Barring a few names like – Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan or to some extent Ashish Nehra – the Indian team have always struggled to find a genuine quick who can rattle the opposition with his pace and swing.
However, the times have changed drastically in the last couple of years. The emergence of Umesh Yadav, Moammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and young speedster Jasprit Bumrah have put India on the map among those nations which boast of some good pacers. Recently, Jasprit Bumrah moved up 27 ranks to a career-best fourth position in the ICC ODI bowler's rankings. A tally of 15 wickets in five matches in Sri Lanka was the Gujarat fast bowler's return to positive vibes and accolades after the low of the Champions Trophy final.
After a three-match wicket drought, Bhuvneshwar too returned to form with his maiden ODI five-for in the fifth and final ODI against Sri Lanka. The way Indian fast bowlers responded to the call in the absence of experienced pacers like - Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami, it was indeed a commendable effort from the young unit.