The year 2012 was a poor one for Indian cricket. Just three Test wins to go with three losses and a draw. Series defeats in Australia at the end of the year and to England at home at the end, with a soft 2-0 win over New Zealand sandwiched into the middle. It got marginally better in ODIs, with nine wins from 15 completed matches. In Twenty20s, India won eight and lost six. Through it all, the prevailing sense of denial from the Indian team and those who supposedly run it was nauseating.
The year 2013 does not look too rosy, but there are, on a personnel level, a few promising cricketers to keep a watch on. Here, Cricketnext picks out five to watch out for in 2013:
Cheteshwar Pujara: The 24-year-old batsman from Saurashtra was quite superb in 2012, scoring 654 runs in six Test matches at an average of 81.75, with two centuries and a double. Pujara marked his return to the Test team with a polished 158 against New Zealand. When England landed in India, he took an unbeaten 206 and 41 off their attack to set up victory in Ahmedabad; in the second Test in Mumbai, his 135 was an even better effort than the double-century. Pujara's rock-solid technique, allied by a smart cricketing brain and adept strokeplay against spin and pace, leaves him as the future of India’s Test batting. With Australia landing for four Tests in February-March, Pujara looks the batsman most ready to face a talented bowling attack.
Further, he is keen to do well in limited-overs cricket. Boasting a domestic List A average of 56.97 over 61 matches, including success on A tours to Australia and New Zealand, Pujara believes he has the skill to be a good ODI batsman. Considering the chalky form of a few of India's senior batsmen, as well as the continued failures of Rohit Sharma, it is not inconceivable that Pujara gets a chance in 2013.
Ajinkya Rahane: At 24, the top-order Mumbai batsman has a first-class average of 62.23, has scored 19 centuries, and his average has never dropped under 56.85 in any season. Despite his obvious talent and appetite for big innings, Rahane has been on the sidelines of India's Test team. Despite the repeated failures of better and lesser batsmen in Tests, both at the top and in the middle, Rahane has not been handed a debut. He toured Australia and watched from the bench when New Zealand and England played Tests in India. Can someone please give this man a chance?
Rahane's List A average is 37.34, and he has been given 19 limited-overs opportunities for India. His 12 ODIs have yielded 349 runs at 29, including a best of 91 against England. In seven T20Is, Rahane averages just under 25. His stroke-play has not been unhurried and he has impressed almost each time he has batted at the top. He remains a part of India's limited-overs plans, but needs to keep himself motivated when warming the bench.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar: At 22, he has already played 46 first-class matches and is one short of the 150-wickets mark. The most consistent seam bowler in Uttar Pradesh's domestic run since he made his first-class debut in 2007, Bhuvneshwar was rewarded for his performances with a place in India's limited-overs squads against Pakistan recently. He made an immediate impact on T20I debut, taking 3 for 9 in an excellent display of seam-bowling highlighted by his ability to set up batsmen. His ODI debut produced a wicket first ball, and Bhuvneshwar was the best of the Indian attack with figures of 9-3-27-2.
Considering the injuries to Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron, Ishant Sharma's inconsistency and Ashok Dinda's erratic ways, it is foreseeable that Bhuvneshwar plays a central role in India's limited-overs fixtures in 2013. Success in colored clothing could mean a Test debut for the young seamer in the near future too. Maybe as soon as February.
Shami Ahmed: The uncapped seamer from Bengal , coming up to his 23rd birthday, was called up to India's ODI squad recently as reward for consistent performances on the domestic circuit and India A tours. In just 15 first-class matches, Ahmed has 65 wickets, 28 of which have come at an average of 21.35 in the ongoing Ranji Trophy season, the most for Bengal, with two ten-wicket hauls. His deceptively potent medium pace, delivered off a smooth run-up and with a neat action, has troubled domestic batsmen and was pivotal to Bengal's win over Hyderabad in mid-December. Earlier, Ahmed took eight wickets in East Zone's maiden Duleep Trophy title. His List A and Twenty20 numbers are also impressive. Ahmed has been highly praised by his state coach, the former India batsman WV Raman, who believes that Ahmed should be regularly playing for India from the middle of 2013.
Parthiv Patel: Not a new name by any measure, but one which could become important as the clamors around MS Dhoni in Test cricket increase. The diminutive wicketkeeper-batsman is the second-highest run-getter this Ranji Trophy season with 895 at 68.84, including three centuries and six fifties, and was central to Gujarat's push for a quarter-final berth. The team did not manage to do so, but Parthiv scorched the run charts.
Parthiv played 16 ODIs in 2011, going past 25 on eight occasions but only twice managing fifties. His last appearance for India was in February 2012, but since then he has been overlooked as India's selectors have not named reserve wicketkeepers in any of their squads. At one point Bengal's Wriddhiman Saha was the preferred back-up 'keeper in Tests, but a superb showing this season has put Parthiv back in the reckoning. Saha (27) and Madhya Pradesh's Naman Ojha (36) have more dismissals this Ranji Trophy season, among glovesmen to have played for India, but neither has made as great an impression with the bat as Parthiv.
At 27, he could have another shot at international cricket before the year is up.