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India's turn to dominate world cricket?

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Oliver Brett | 16:01 UK time, Monday, 4 April 2011

Like British politics, world cricket has seen two formidable and dominant dynasties take shape in the last 30 years.

The West Indies, in an uncompromising fashion that may have impressed Margaret Thatcher, were peerless in the 1980s, with their fearsome fast bowlers and that most awe-inspiring batsman, Viv Richards.

When the Windies then spiralled into decline, Tony Blair entered Downing Street at a time when Australia had already taken hold of the sceptre of power that made them the pre-eminent side.

But with the third of Ricky Ponting's three Ashes defeats still fresh in the memory, and two changes of Prime Minister since Blair, a watershed moment has arrived.

I'll leave the politics out of this blog from now on, and instead concentrate on India, whose coronation as World Cup winners on Saturday could put them on course to establish themselves as the next great superpower in world cricket.

India's win was achieved in spite of several factors that could have made their task a tough one in the ICC's flagship event.

Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, India president Pratibha Devisingh Patil, Munaf Patel and Mahendra Dhoni

Dhoni (right) will not be able to count on the formidable Tendulkar (left) for very much longer (AP)

This was a tournament in which favourites (generally South Africa in recent editions) had not enjoyed a good record. But this time India started as favourites and found a way to win. Furthermore, no previous team had won a final on home soil. Shrugging off that weight of expectation was all the harder for India, whose fans are both notoriously passionate and notoriously fickle.

Mahendra Dhoni's Zen-like serenity, and ability to inure himself to external factors, helped him rise to the challenge with some accomplished captaincy. Dhoni also ended a run of poor form by delivering the coup de grace with the bat against Sri Lanka on Saturday.

His legacy is secured a generation after Kapil Dev, who led an underdog Indian side to glory in 1983, wrote the first chapter in the modern history of Indian cricket.

In Dhoni's case, the journey can go to even bigger and better places and for the next 12 months the onus will be on protecting the number one Test status they earned over the winter.

So how do India's finest players prepare for the important tours of West Indies, England and Australia that lie in wait for them later this year (plus a home series in November against West Indies?) Oh yes. The Indian Premier League starts on Friday. That's right, this Friday... and goes on until 28 May.

With two new franchises, Pune and Kochi, and 74 matches squeezed into less than two months, players will have to suffer a stressful regime of practice-match-hotel-flight (repeat ad nauseam) week-in, week-out.

Remember: in the IPL, the performance of India-qualified players is key. Seven players in each starting side have to be Indians, and there will be no instances of the national board pulling players out to give them a break (as happens in county cricket).

Seven days after the IPL final, India play a Twenty20 international in Trinidad followed by five one-day internationals and three Tests, finishing on 10 July.

Time for a rest after that? Oh no. It's straight on to the tour of England and a warm-up against Somerset starting on 15 July. Quite what shape any of these players will be in come the Lord's Test match on 21 July is anyone's guess.

One way round would be to rest a number of key players for the tour to West Indies. But that could be a dangerous tactic on pitches that have become lifeless, and under new captain Darren Sammy the Windies are showing glimmers of potential.

Cheteshwar Pujara

One for the future: Cheteshwar Pujara has already had a brief taste of Test cricket (Getty)

Either way, Andrew Strauss's England will start that Test at Lord's with a huge in-built advantage on a ground where they are unbeaten in their last 10 Tests.

I mention all this because the single biggest threat to India's bid for world cricket domination is not the quality of their opponents but the daft scheduling.

Administrators everywhere are good at talking a good game when it comes to easing the physical and mental burden on players. But when it comes to agreeing deals with rival boards and broadcasters, the dollar signs tend to loom larger than the latest alarming bulletins from the physio.

Another negative for India is the age of some of their top players. Sachin Tendulkar (37) is playing some of the best cricket of his life in his fourth decade as an international cricketer.

But even the finest wines have a quantifiable shelf-life, and before very long he will have to be replaced. More holes in the batting will open up when Rahul Dravid (38) and VVS Laxman (36) also make way.

There are some very fine young batsmen in India. The 21-year-old Saurabh Tiwary is an extremely exciting player while Cheteshwar Pujara, who has played three Tests, comes with all the right credentials and appears to have a long career in front of him.

Virat Kohli, an important if unspectacular performer in the World Cup, also looks like he could play some fine innings in Test cricket.

At 32, Zaheer Khan is significantly younger than Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman. But he is a fast bowler and the sad truth is that they age faster than batsmen.

Zaheer is also demonstrably the best seamer in both the Test and one-day sides and will require careful management in the years to come. Ishant Sharma looks the best of the rest, while too many others (notably Irfan Pathan and RP Singh, plus Sreesanth, to an extent) have seen highly promising careers fizzle out alarmingly.

Irfan Pathan and RP Singh

Injuries and indifferent form have stalled the careers of Irfan Pathan and RP Singh (Getty)

The list of other young fast bowlers coming through is a thin one, but that's hardly surprising. The Indian nursery is effectively the IPL. And if you're a young bowler trying to rise to the surface then having to bowl at the most aggressive batsmen in the world in 20-overs-a-side cricket is far from ideal.

Scoff all you like at the County Championship. But when England were forced to adopt Plan B in the Ashes and produce Tim Bresnan and Chris Tremlett halfway through the series, they acquitted themselves very well indeed.

If fast bowling is a concern for India, spin bowling is not, or should not be. Harbhajan Singh (30) has many miles left on his clock, and other spinners like Pragyan Ojha, Piyush Chawla and Ravichandran Ashwin all look pretty useful.

With their enormous resources, both financial and in terms of raw numbers of players, and the belief the World Cup win should give them, India have a fighting chance of doing something similar to Clive Lloyd's West Indians and Steve Waugh's Aussies.

But they must do so at a time of innumerable, compressed tours, and amid the distractions of the IPL - plus the imminent retirement of some superstar players. It will take something very special indeed for Dhoni's India to become a benchmark for long-term cricketing excellence.

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