So, India managed to beat South Africa in a terrific nail biter to draw the series and retain their tag as the # 1 test cricket team in the world. If Morne Morkel survived a few more balls that wouldn’t have happened and SA would have been #1 instead. That is to take nothing away from India, but just to highlight how thinly separated the top 3 teams are.
There are broadly two kinds of people in the cricket world now, as far as this topic goes:
- The over the top desis, fuelled by an even more over the top media, who believe that our cricketers are the best ever to have descended on the planet, and we are the undisputable kings of the cricket world.
- The media in the “white” cricketing countries that still hasn’t come to terms with the new pecking order, and a lot of Indians grown up to believing that any cricketing observation is true only when Geoffrey Boycott or Tony Greig thinks so.
The reality, as always, is somewhere in the middle. India are truly the #1 team in the world today, but not by much, and if they don’t maintain / improve further, not for too long.
So here are some points to consider to the two different camps:
To the “we are the best” and our cricketers are gods brigade:
- Away record: We still haven’t beaten Australia in Australia, or South Africa in South Africa. Not yet!
- Batting: We rely heavily on the top 4 batsmen, specifically on Sehwag performing a super human feat to win matches in a few hours for us. On bad days like we have had in Nagpur / Sydney / Ahmedabad / Cape Town, we have been thoroughly exposed.
- Key personnel: Dravid is 37, Sachin 36, Laxman 35. In the next 2-3 years all of them would bow out some time or the other. What we have seen so far of Yuvraj, Vijay, Badri, in tests, and Kohli, Raina, Rohit in ODIs does not seem to suggest they can fill in those massive boots in terms of batting class, temperament, stature, grit, and slip catching.
- Bowling: Frontline bowlers: Our bowling is highly reliant on Zaheer Khan. Ishant is on a learning curve, Sreesanth is inconsistent, Bhajji blows hot (when he is about to dropped or when the batsmen have piled on a huge score, or the pace men have softened the top order), and blows cold (all other occasions). He is our number one spinner because no spinner in the country is bowling any better.
- Bowling: Back-up bowlers. Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie Gilliespie, are some names that had served as back-up men and change bowlers for years before they became the strike bowlers in their respective all conquering teams. Think R.P Singh, Munaf Patel, Dhaval Kulkarni, Irfan Pathan, and compare them to the class above. No further arguments
To those who loathe India’s new growth across all walks of life, can’t accept a new cricketing world order anymore, and to those Indians who still have a colonial hangover:
- England: The sun has actually set on your empire. Actually long time back, please wake up! You are not a good enough cricket team for me to include you in this discussion, and that’s because all your sporting performances since my birth have been average, spun as “extra ordinary” by your media. I mean Michael Atherton averages 30 something in test cricket, and he played over a 100 test matches as you couldn’t find any one better, and is a so called legendary player / cricket expert now. Its about time somebody in your media noted that: A. India is officially the #1 cricket team in the world B. England are 4/5 or thereabouts. C. Andy Murray has 0 grand slams D. England haven’t won a football world cup for 50 years, or reached the semis in the last 20 years
- Australia: Australia is doing pretty well considering how terrible you could have become after losing a golden generation. But you lost the Ashes, lost to South Africa at home, and got thrashed by India in India. And, I still maintain that without Steve Bucknor & the luck associated with winning teams, India should have won 2 series against you, some other teams would have won more matches in Australia, and Shane “Umpire charmer” Warne would have ended up with 100 less test wickets. Johnson, Bollinger, Siddle, Hiffenhaus, Hauritz, are all decent blokes, but not quite Warne and McGrath.
- South Africa: No, I will not use that C word, but you know what I mean. You can’t win any 100m sprint if you run the first 95 faster than anyone and stop at the 96th meter. Even today, you needed to bat out 8 more balls against India, but you failed at the very last gasp. I know it hurts, but unless you can overcome that, and unless you can find a spinner who actually spins the ball, you would never be the #1 team
- To all my desi friends who are still not convinced:Exhibit A: Vikram Rathore, Deep Das Gupta, Rajesh Chauhan, Venkatapathy Raju, Salil Ankola, W.V Raman, Abey Kuruvilla, Venkatesh Prasad, etc etc. Exhibit B: The present Indian cricket team. Grow up guys, we are actually the best we have ever had, and as of today, the best in the world!
So, where all this does leaves us?
I’ll use the game of Monopoly as an analogy. You start with may be a half-dozen players, and after a few rounds of buying and selling, the weak players are out. You have 3 players left now (India, Australia, and South Africa; in the sequence of whom I rate as the present 1, 2, 3) and India is marginally ahead. The next few rounds will determine who wins and losses, and while India has a slight advantage, it can’t rest on its laurels, and anything’s possible from here!
Let the pitch battles commence!