Sunday, August 08, 2010

India is really the No.1 Test team

Just before the final Test of the India Sri Lanka series, I had written in my facebook status that India won at least one Test in every series India played since the Pakistan tour in Jan 2006. This includes even the series we lost in South Africa (1-2), Australia (1-2) and Sri Lanka (1-2). We have shown this consistency over a sufficiently long period of 4.5 years.
Even Australia doesn't hold this record as they failed to win a test in India  when they lost the series 0-2 in 2008. In the same period Australia has lost same number of series i.e. 3 to South Africa (1-2), Ashes 2009 (1-2) and India (0-2). Ashes 2005 loss though doesn't belong to the period under consideration.

India's next series is against Australia for Border-Gavaskar trophy in October. India will start the series as favorites, does it ever happen that Australia start a series as an underdog? Such has been India's form and dominance in Border Gavaskar trophy in which India won 10 and lost 10 in 26 matches, more importantly won the trophy 5 times out of 7.

Team composition-vise India has the best batting lineup that can only be imagined in dreams. Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman are those players who complete the lineup. Need I say more about batting? Cool headed, smart, charismatic leader in Dhoni to add to his reliable wicket keeping and batting. Highest wicket taker (355 wickets) among the bowlers still playing in Harbhajan. Mature, accurate, dead wicket bowler in Zaheer Khan. Promising spinners like Prahgyan Ojha. Still bowling needs to improve to consistently get 20 wickets. But great bowlers are rare with any team in the world not just India.

I strongly believe success in Test Cricket is not about having players with great skill, India always had them. It is about how players react to pressure, their patience, concentration, intensity in the contest over 5 days, how team handles situations. India showed enough fighting qualities over the last few years.
Taking example of the last test at Colombo.
  • Arguably the weakest bowling lineup created enough chances at took 20 wickets not by bowling the best deliveries but by forcing errors in batsmen due to sustained pressure.
  • New ball spins and bounces more, but once the ball gets old it is easier to play. Indian batsmen smartly used this fact to their advantage in the run chase.
  • Indian batsmen have this propensity to hit boundaries to score runs but when Sangakkara spread his field, batsmen curbed their natural instincts and collected singles.
  • While chasing a tricky target like 250 and having lost 3 wickets, batsmen generally get into their shell, look to defend and survive, forget about scoring runs. But Tendulkar and Laxman batted positively, scored runs briskly to ease pressure.
This Indian team grabs most opportunities and doesn't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Earlier we have lost to West Indies chasing 120, lost Sydney Test with 5 minutes remaining and lost Chennai Test to Pakistan by 12 runs. Instead now, we have saved Napier test by batting for 7 sessions after following on, won Chennai Test against England chasing 387, just won Colombo Test chasing 256, drew the Lord's test with 1 wicket remaining. But we haven't been able to finish matches that should have been won - against Pakistan at Bangalore, against England at Oval and against New Zealand at Wellington.

Earlier India used to start a series as favorites, win the 1st test with ease, draw another test and somehow lose the final test to share the series that we should have won. Like at home against Pakistan in 2005 and England in 2006. Instead now reverse is true like in England in 2007, in Sri Lanka in 2010.

India does not have the best Win count or percentage as Australia does because India mostly plays in placid pitches or during rainy season when matches usually end in a draw.

Critics can say India reached the top by fluke (after winning home series against Sri Lanka) but India has stayed there for 9 months now maintaining a larger margin from the next best team.

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