Work on fast bowling, facing pace and diving in the outfield to make Team India holistically the best rather than No.1 in terms of technically secured points
Virat Kohli’s boys must be congratulated for bringing the Indian cricket team to such a position that its International Cricket Council ranking of the No. 1 Test-playing side won’t be affected even in the event of an unlikely South African sweep of the series that has just begun. This position was achieved in August 2016, following Australia’s defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka in Colombo. The rank was cemented by India’s performance against West Indies that year. This extended the winning streak for India as they had secured series wins in Sri Lanka and the West Indies and beaten South Africa at home. In the next season, Kohli and team enjoyed a winning streak at home, defeating New Zealand, England, Australia and Bangladesh. It is, of course, creditworthy of South Africa, too, that they have climbed up from the seventh position that year to the second and they will nearly share the top slot with India (118.47 rating points) in the event of their series win, securing 117.53 points. Rome, as the cliché goes, was however not built in a day. Aggression had begun with the famous huddle under the leadership of Sourav Ganguly; the captaincy of Mahendra Singh Dhoni brought in the killer instinct. For almost two decades, the passivity of the Sunil Gavaskar-Kapil Dev era is gone, even as Team India’s approach to the game stayed tentative for the period when 10 other players looked up to Sachin Tendulkar for a rescue job in every other Test or One Day International. Along with Kohli now, the side has Cheteshwar Pujara among the top 10 Test batsmen of the world. Even the bowling department, which has historically been India’s weak point, now has Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin in the third and fourth ICC rankings. And we aren’t doing badly in ODIs and Twenty20s either though that is a subject matter of a different commentary within the realm of cricket.
Test cricket no longer requires the certificate of authenticity from the orthodoxy. This era knows that the five-day affair has today a high probability of producing results rather than culminating in lame draws. Without deriding ODIs and T20s as “pyjama cricket”, one can appreciate the endurance of the men in white while also receiving edge-of-the-seat entertainment on the third or fourth day on a few occasions. However, since this traditional advocacy of the older format of the game does not quite work for the young, the Indian team’s sustenance on top of Test rankings is remarkable. They are enjoying the game in all its forms, and that is the spirit with which one must approach any sport.
Some concerns stay unaddressed still. While we have begun producing bowlers who register greater than 140 km/h speeds of delivery, the Indian cricket narrative is still skewed in favour of the batsmen, which is why more talent in that segment of the sport has emerged for decades. The enthusiasm of an aspirant is further dampened by the flat pitches Indian curators prepare, which may disintegrate and benefit the spinners or, at best, medium pacers, but never genuine fast bowlers. Fielding improved in the 1990s, especially when it comes to reflex actions but, in the outfield, Indians are still witnessed falling on the ball rather than diving or sliding to prevent runs of the opponent. This means that the whole field deserves a relook. Before any tour to Australia or South Africa, a brief spell of practice on bouncy tracks or with bowling machines smacks of an ad hoc attitude. The fear of losing matches and, hence, leaving pitches underprepared is actually an embarrassing act, which our administrators seek pride in. Rather than turning complacent with the long stretch of staying on top, the entire cricket administration must work on these aspects of the game to make our team holistically the best rather than the No.1 in terms of technically attained points.