Some observations on India’s rise & now fall from No.1
1) Kudos of MS Dhoni & The Indian Cricket Team. Irrespective of the comments from the experts & past players, India being No.1 is no joke. The Indian team deserved this on the basis of consistent performance as well as the fact they have displayed signs of chucking the tag of bad travelers with some awe inspiring performances. Before all the former greats start moaning, they would be wise to take a step back & check where Indian cricket was during their playing days. India’s rise to the top was driven by a resourceful, charismatic, captain cool aligned with a once-in-a-lifetime middle order, a very strong & capable of taking the fight to the opposition opening duo, a new found emphasis on fast bowling led by an astute bowling captain & last but not the least, grit, resilience & valuable runs from the lower order. A team that had sufficient belief in themselves to mount fightbacks, rear guard actions & as well as display a sense of ruthlessness. Last but not the least, the role played by Gary Kirsten & his team.
2) That being said, India as a world No.1 lacked the aura that the previous 3 undisputed champion teams lacked (Bradman’s Invincibles, The Great West Indies team of the late 70s to early 90s, Steve Waugh’s Aussies). However, this is true of the all the sides currently playing (Though England in their current form are beginning to develop an aura). The future No.1 team for some time atleast is likely be the first among equals. The No.1 ranking will be contested between 4 teams, India, England, SA & Australia. (A note for those heralding the rise of England, they still have much to prove in the subcontinent on the slow low designer tracks for spinners, where pace isn’t paramount & bounce, if any, is bound to be lacking)
3) England’s biggest strength lies in the pace bowling variety & depth as well as the ability to hunt in packs. Anderson’s swing bowling nous & his status as pack leader, Barbie (aka Stuart Broad)’s pace coupled with his new found propensity to pitch it up, Bresnan’s skiddy back of length seaming deliveries, Chris Tremlett’s bounce allied with a tendency to seam the ball away from right handers & Steve Finn’s pace & bounce make for an effective & varied bowling attack. It is indeed a measure of their depth that they can play only 3 of the lot.
4) While its too early & premature to get into a postmortem of this disastrous England tour, India did look distinctly under cooked (no pun intended) & under prepared. While it does seem, in this increasingly crowded schedule, farfetched to expect India to play more than 2 practice matches, it was needed in this case considering how most of the key members in the team have not played together since the World Cup.
5) Those (read English commentators) bemoaning how IPL is ruining Indian youngsters can kindly STFU. Agreed that the primacy of test cricket is getting affected, why would any sane human being refuse an offer running the in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for 6 weeks of cricket. Most of these comments seem to materialize from the fact that they could not make the same amount of money when they played. (For once, I am in agreement with Messrs. Shastri & Gavaskar, Hey, stop judging now. I just said once) Lest they forget, all I can say is beware of Americans bearing wads of money entering Lords in a helicopter to organize T20s flanked by former England & WI greats.
6) Injury & Fatigue management has to be a top priority for Indian cricket & the BCCI. Players dropping halfway through the tour, not appearing fit & looking seemingly tired are key problems that have to be addressed for India to be consistently on top of the table. Player schedule has to be addressed & it does no good when players are put in a position where they would have to select between a lucrative T20 tournament & a marquee tour.
7) Praveen Kumar has to be the find of the tour. For a man derided for his lack of pace, his ability to swing the ball either ways with no discernable change in action & control, accuracy & ability to check the runs when things are not happening are major pluses. That coupled with an attitude of a tear away fast bowler makes him a compelling competitor.
8. The No.6 position is again raising a lot of questions. Suresh Raina has not done enough to suggest that he is an answer for the position & his susceptibility to the short ball has not put to rest any misgivings. His ability to turn the arm over & bowl quick off spinning darts & presence in the field are pluses. However, his sole priority should be to score runs.
9) All things that could go wrong did go wrong in this tour of England. Openers injured, shuffle in batting order, a middle order that went off boil, a lower order that hardly put a fight, a bowling attack that could not sustain pressure for long periods of time, an out of form spinner, the list is huge. That being said, a major credit has to go the English team. Ruthless & executing a well thought of plan, the team does bat deep & hurts the opposition with its bowling & fielding
10) Zaheer Khan. Such a vital part of the Indian machine. His loss is not just his bowling but also his guidance & experience being passed on to the other bowlers. In his absence, there is a lack of leadership & hence, pressure is not being sustained for a period of time
11) Lastly, one bad tour is enough. We have been at the receiving end of quite a few bad tours but none as bad as this. It probably hurts even more now because of the good job & the heightened expectation that this team has raised. Had this been the team of the 90s, I am sure it would not have hurt that much. But what is now essential is to focus on the tour of Australia towards the end of the year. A tour to Australia is always a hard tour & despite Australia not being in the best of forms, they are a wounded animal at home. That tour has to be one that is very likely to also be a swan song from our fabled middle order. Its essential to prepare well for that tour & strike hard.