India February 9, 2010

The battle for No. 1 (sans the shouting)

Marigolds on the players’ balcony

Amla adds just the touch of modernity to his old-timer’s mien with a Powerade bottle © Getty Images

Sometimes it is worth reminding ourselves how fortunate we are to be able to enjoy the Victorian anachronism that is Test match cricket. The best team in the world are taking on their nearest rivals in what would, if it took place in the English Premier League, be labelled a “top-of-the-table clash” and be played out in a maelstrom of tripping, diving, rolling, gesticulating and screaming. And that just from the coaches.

India against South Africa has been a treat so far. Awesome laser-guided fast bowling from Steyn; impossible jagging bounce from the gangling Morkel; Sehwag restraining his instincts in a clammy-palmed innings that almost rescued his team, before cutting loose and falling into a trap. And all this on top of Amla’s Old Testament batting and the delights of watching Mishra’s delicate but unrewarded curvers and dippers.

Yet it has been devoid of bile and belligerence. Perhaps that is partly due to the surroundings. The stadium in Nagpur has the atmosphere of a sleepy provincial town square. The polished white steps up to the pavilion are covered with a graceful summer awning. Spectators eat ice cream and chat to one another at leisure. There are even potted marigolds on the ledge of the players' balcony.

And for once, the commentary has suited the occasion. Danny Morrison, in particular, seems more relaxed than when I last listened to him, during the IPL. Perhaps because his Test duties do not require him to plummet down an inflatable slide, play at being a DJ or turn up to the coin toss wearing a cheerleader. He is merely expected to sit in a chair and talk about cricket. Gratitude has been evident in every syllable and so far he has been rather good.

Still, whilst I’m not one for unnecessary hype, I’m not sure that the official title of this heavyweight bout really conveys the significance of the contest. No disrespect to Mr Jaypee or his distinguished colleague, Mr Infratech, but the modern cricket fan has come to expect a hyphenated brace of legends for these things. I’m guessing the Cronje-Azharrudin Shield might not create the right ambience, and the Gavaskar-Procter Vase probably isn’t a goer either. How about the Pollock-Prabhakar Prize? The Kirsten Cup? The Ganguly-Cullinan Chalice?

Meanwhile, over in Australia, Chris Gayle surprised many people when he predicted a 4-1 victory for the men in maroon in the Haigh-Cozier Trophy. On the face of it, it could be said that Sunday’s 113-run defeat in Melbourne casts some doubt on the wisdom of the prediction. But the Jamaican plays a long game, you see. Now that they have swiftly dispensed with the 1, big Chris and his men can start work on the 4.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on February 17, 2010, 12:32 GMT

    Another very good piece, Andrew. Like I said, I am catching up after a while. Cheers, Raja

  • testli5504537 on February 12, 2010, 6:42 GMT

    at Manjush

    Sreesanh is by no means India's first choice bowler - he's not even their 1st choice fast bowler... and while dravid and laxman were definitely missed i think yuvraj is a highly overrated test batsman.

    btw why dont the indian selectors go out on a limb and select manish pandey? exciting talent, unafraid of pace and importantly steyn's teammate at the RCB

  • testli5504537 on February 12, 2010, 6:08 GMT

    Good article. Strange that both India and SA have both been strong teams for many years. The Aussies dominated cricket for a long time, thus overshadowed the other two. Times have changed. The Aussies are still good, but not unbeatable.SA have a bunch of youngsters who are gaining experience fast and this will lead to a more polished team. Many fans of other teams, especially the Aussies, hate to give credit to other teams, even when it is due. India had a bad match, but I would not count them out just yet. Like it or not, these are the two top ranked teams.

  • testli5504537 on February 12, 2010, 4:21 GMT

    What about the Kumble-Tayfield Trophy? You would be homouring both countries best spinners, which is appropriate when playing India.

  • testli5504537 on February 11, 2010, 22:55 GMT

    what about the Gandhi-Mandela Cup? will give weight and meaning to the series! and make it worth playing for

  • testli5504537 on February 11, 2010, 16:55 GMT

    It's funny to see that some Indian's here are defending their loss against South Africa .... But they did enjoy their 2-0 victory against a weak Australian team saying that they defeated No.1 team... By the way India is not at all a No.1 test team and it won't be ... coz, simple .. they don't have good genuine fast bowlers... They might ascend to No.1 position in lottery T20 game ... But test cricket is not a lottery game...

  • testli5504537 on February 11, 2010, 13:53 GMT

    Lovely article, India does not hold a slightest chance against the Porteas. Its a shame that since 65 years of Indian cricket existence they have not even produced a single genuine fast bowler and thieir batting against fast bowlers has always been mediocre and just like the cookie crumbles their bating would crumble again and again.

  • testli5504537 on February 11, 2010, 12:12 GMT

    Cronje-Azharrudin Shield : hughes' sarcasm is evident.

  • testli5504537 on February 10, 2010, 22:52 GMT

    I am seeing a lot of comments SA planning and pro'ism and all sorts. True the victory sounds great. - but when u consider the team compositions u see why the victory was such huge. India did not have the services of their 3 1st choice batsmen and had to go in without their 1st choice bowler(against SA for sure) Sreesanth. Now on top of that they had to run in to get a WK for an jnjured bat and then losses the toss. I dont think SA planned for any of these. Only thing that was looking menacing was Dale steyn. To be honest Morkel played better against England. Parnell was just par. They were lucky that steyn was in top form.

  • testli5504537 on February 10, 2010, 16:25 GMT

    This is delightful Andrew! I love the last para...great wit and sarcasm. And please note that with the Kolkata Test we might just see some upping of the ante...

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