India's one-day series against England, Nasser Hussain believes, is less about a result and more finding out where their team is headed. "The ODI series is going to be close," Hussain said in an exclusive interview to ESPNcricinfo. "More than the result India should be interested in what they find out from the series. They are world champions, no one can take that away from them. If they lose 5-0 to England, they will still be world champions. What they need to do is to start to look to the future."
In the Test series earlier in the summer, Hussain said India, "had been sinking in the present ... World Cup, World No. 1, IPL, celebration and ah, if we lose in England ... You've almost got to be ahead of the curve, all the time you've got to be ahead of the curve and it takes a very clever man to do that."
India could use the ODI series to find out who the replacements for their best players in the short form are. "I don't care how good a side are, if you lose the likes of Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Gautam Gambhir and the rest, it is going to be a massive blow, they need eventually to have replacements for some of these guys.
"They need someone to come through with the ball to replace Zaheer, they need R Ashwin to bowl well and see if he is a replacement for Harbhajan. I think much more than the result, it's about which of these young lads will put their hands up.
"In English conditions, it will move around in day-night games in September, Fletcher will be watching closely and the selectors will be watching closely. Now is the great time for the young lads to show what you can do, it's very important for the future of India."
He said that while the IPL had helped India's one-day cricket, the length of the tournament would have an adverse impact on their longer form. "I think they wouldn't have been world champions if it wasn't for IPL. I think it has massively helped. Pressure situations, playing in your home country, players whacking the ball out of the ground, the handling of pressure, soaking it up. They've had it all in the IPL, and they go out and do it in World Cup, it absolutely helped them. But it is now going to hinder them - as we have seen here - in Test match cricket."
India's short stay at the No. 1 Test ranking had coincided with the World Cup victory at home, and Hussain said that prolonged periods of sustained multi-format domination will become more and more rare. "It will happen, but it won't happen every time, every team. The West Indies side of the 1980s and the Australian side of the 1990s and the 2000s dominated both types of the game. It doesn't mean - as India are finding out now - that just because you are a great side - as India have been - you can't be a great side in all forms of the game unless they [the team/ players ] grow up together. It's becoming a bit late now for India because, for example, soon it will be broken up, there are some tired bodies in there.
"The Australian side's success and aura in the 1990s and 2000s," Hussain said, "took a long time to build. The side grew up together, the Waughs, Warne, Ponting. It took a long time to build. It might come again, there is potential in this England side, but they have won nothing yet in one-day cricket other than the world T20."