India February 9, 2010

The battle for No. 1 (sans the shouting)

Marigolds on the players’ balcony
21


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

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

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

  • andy 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

  • Mark TC 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.

  • Hilton 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.

  • francis sales 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

  • khan 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...

  • papa india 92 03334807843 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.

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

    Cronje-Azharrudin Shield : hughes' sarcasm is evident.

  • Manjush 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.

  • Vivek Atray 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...

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

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

  • andy 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

  • Mark TC 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.

  • Hilton 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.

  • francis sales 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

  • khan 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...

  • papa india 92 03334807843 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.

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

    Cronje-Azharrudin Shield : hughes' sarcasm is evident.

  • Manjush 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.

  • Vivek Atray 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...

  • jamshed on February 10, 2010, 11:41 GMT

    Chris Gayle is a generous soul.Despite his 4-1 prediction,he gave the Australians not one,but two games to start with.I have a lingering suspicion,despite having a clearly superior side,he may hand them all five.

  • SR Kannan on February 10, 2010, 5:18 GMT

    I would have been a lot happier if the two sides had faced each other for the title clash in full strength. India playing without a Dravid, Yuvraj and Laxman is a team without a middle order and that was reflected in the way they got defeated. That said, SA played like a compact team, well led and prepared and that's half the battle won.Talking of hyphenations.. I think it should be simply called the India - South Africa Cup. There's a lot more emotion to that name right now than any player names in hyphenation.

  • Mohammad Waseem Khan Tareen on February 10, 2010, 4:49 GMT

    253* Impressive AMLA finally getting to his class and tallent. When i first saw him play in international match, that was in the test match against the same indian team in Kolkata (India) back in 2004-05 he had tallent but he missed the oppertunity in his debut match and series, but he was a bit late to show his class. Now he has cemented his place of No 3 for South Africa and i hope that he will soon become the reliable batsman in oneday ineternationls as well. As he is an elegant stroke player he has all the capabilites of doing so. Whenever i see him play, i see the qualities of leadership in Amla and i hope that he will soon get that. . . . . . Lets be optimistic and hope for the best . . . . . .

  • alex on February 10, 2010, 4:31 GMT

    India were missing dravid the stalwart of most indian victories and draws and selectors blunders...lot of thing went wrong. I still think even with dravid , steyn would have cleaned up indians with his awsome "look at me" "look at me" bowling.

    India lost mainly because they could not take 10 wickets. It is difficult to bat when u look at 500+ odd score against super fast bowling. We all remember dravid rescued indians against srilanka with almost same score. Difference is SA has steyn on top form. Sachin always choke under pressure. He is a bunny in pressure conditions.

    SA will win in calcutta also.

  • Kunal on February 10, 2010, 4:11 GMT

    Nice article! Andrew, it's very kind of you to talk about India's players in the same breath as the South Africans (Steyn/Morkel vs Sehwag/Mishra), a courtesy they don't deserve currently. Also, the bit about "wearing a cheerleader" and the suggestions for a better name of the trophy are quite funny. Personally, I'd go with the "Ganguly-Cullinan Chalice": both were supremely elegant batsmen to watch, and "Chalice" sounds just as elegant as a Ganguly/Cullinan cover-drive!

  • Greg Ranger on February 9, 2010, 14:07 GMT

    I beg to differ, I do not believe that either SA or India deserve the title of No.1. Plus their depth is questionable. When the Tendulkars, Laxmans and co retire, good night dick. SA promise a lot but fail to deliver when they are favourites. Australia will regain the mantle sometime in 2010, the latest 2011.

  • Bob on February 9, 2010, 13:53 GMT

    What Sehwag should say: "We lost because we couldn't take 20 South African wickets".

  • P Subramani on February 9, 2010, 12:46 GMT

    India were beaten by an innings in the Nagpur Test because of Protean planning and professionalism and above everything else by a fast bowling all time great. We were indeed privileged to have got to see Dale Steyn at his professional best. The fact that he now has 196 wickets in just 37 Tests will show how good he is against all comers which when you realise is the same as what Syd Barnes( an all time great from England)had at the sme number of Tests one can see that we are fortunate to have lived at the same time as Steyn and seen him in his explosive action.The series itself is as cultured as the marigolds and old world charm on view. I would like to name this iconic series of the future not with names of cricketing greats. Since India played a big part in the readmission of South Africa into the Test arena, I think a Gandhi-Mandela Cup would make it truly a great future rivalry.

  • Rusty on February 9, 2010, 10:53 GMT

    RAther than sauntering to any sort of victory, Gayle was out for a golden duck this time and 8-wicket defeat. That's 4 times out of 6 now by Bollinger. From Mr. Cool to Doug the Rug's bunny. Must be a very long game. Perhaps he means - next tour?

  • Tushar Kardile on February 9, 2010, 10:03 GMT

    Well Done Andrew for not offending any sub-contiental audience so blatantly this time around, but the article lacked punch.

    Also, how about Kapil-Kirsten Cup? That sure brings back more painful memories than Cronje-Azharrudin Shield.

  • Erichero on February 9, 2010, 8:57 GMT

    The weight of this contest would be greater if either of the pretenders carried a little more allure to their credentials. South Africa have been stuttering for a while now, conceding a home series draw against local comprehension, not to mention the ODI series loss. India are strong, but don't register the awe that Australia have held for so long.

    It seems like the number one spot still feels ... vacant. There may be an official caretaker of the spot, but who would be the lord of the manor?

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  • Erichero on February 9, 2010, 8:57 GMT

    The weight of this contest would be greater if either of the pretenders carried a little more allure to their credentials. South Africa have been stuttering for a while now, conceding a home series draw against local comprehension, not to mention the ODI series loss. India are strong, but don't register the awe that Australia have held for so long.

    It seems like the number one spot still feels ... vacant. There may be an official caretaker of the spot, but who would be the lord of the manor?

  • Tushar Kardile on February 9, 2010, 10:03 GMT

    Well Done Andrew for not offending any sub-contiental audience so blatantly this time around, but the article lacked punch.

    Also, how about Kapil-Kirsten Cup? That sure brings back more painful memories than Cronje-Azharrudin Shield.

  • Rusty on February 9, 2010, 10:53 GMT

    RAther than sauntering to any sort of victory, Gayle was out for a golden duck this time and 8-wicket defeat. That's 4 times out of 6 now by Bollinger. From Mr. Cool to Doug the Rug's bunny. Must be a very long game. Perhaps he means - next tour?

  • P Subramani on February 9, 2010, 12:46 GMT

    India were beaten by an innings in the Nagpur Test because of Protean planning and professionalism and above everything else by a fast bowling all time great. We were indeed privileged to have got to see Dale Steyn at his professional best. The fact that he now has 196 wickets in just 37 Tests will show how good he is against all comers which when you realise is the same as what Syd Barnes( an all time great from England)had at the sme number of Tests one can see that we are fortunate to have lived at the same time as Steyn and seen him in his explosive action.The series itself is as cultured as the marigolds and old world charm on view. I would like to name this iconic series of the future not with names of cricketing greats. Since India played a big part in the readmission of South Africa into the Test arena, I think a Gandhi-Mandela Cup would make it truly a great future rivalry.

  • Bob on February 9, 2010, 13:53 GMT

    What Sehwag should say: "We lost because we couldn't take 20 South African wickets".

  • Greg Ranger on February 9, 2010, 14:07 GMT

    I beg to differ, I do not believe that either SA or India deserve the title of No.1. Plus their depth is questionable. When the Tendulkars, Laxmans and co retire, good night dick. SA promise a lot but fail to deliver when they are favourites. Australia will regain the mantle sometime in 2010, the latest 2011.

  • Kunal on February 10, 2010, 4:11 GMT

    Nice article! Andrew, it's very kind of you to talk about India's players in the same breath as the South Africans (Steyn/Morkel vs Sehwag/Mishra), a courtesy they don't deserve currently. Also, the bit about "wearing a cheerleader" and the suggestions for a better name of the trophy are quite funny. Personally, I'd go with the "Ganguly-Cullinan Chalice": both were supremely elegant batsmen to watch, and "Chalice" sounds just as elegant as a Ganguly/Cullinan cover-drive!

  • alex on February 10, 2010, 4:31 GMT

    India were missing dravid the stalwart of most indian victories and draws and selectors blunders...lot of thing went wrong. I still think even with dravid , steyn would have cleaned up indians with his awsome "look at me" "look at me" bowling.

    India lost mainly because they could not take 10 wickets. It is difficult to bat when u look at 500+ odd score against super fast bowling. We all remember dravid rescued indians against srilanka with almost same score. Difference is SA has steyn on top form. Sachin always choke under pressure. He is a bunny in pressure conditions.

    SA will win in calcutta also.

  • Mohammad Waseem Khan Tareen on February 10, 2010, 4:49 GMT

    253* Impressive AMLA finally getting to his class and tallent. When i first saw him play in international match, that was in the test match against the same indian team in Kolkata (India) back in 2004-05 he had tallent but he missed the oppertunity in his debut match and series, but he was a bit late to show his class. Now he has cemented his place of No 3 for South Africa and i hope that he will soon become the reliable batsman in oneday ineternationls as well. As he is an elegant stroke player he has all the capabilites of doing so. Whenever i see him play, i see the qualities of leadership in Amla and i hope that he will soon get that. . . . . . Lets be optimistic and hope for the best . . . . . .

  • SR Kannan on February 10, 2010, 5:18 GMT

    I would have been a lot happier if the two sides had faced each other for the title clash in full strength. India playing without a Dravid, Yuvraj and Laxman is a team without a middle order and that was reflected in the way they got defeated. That said, SA played like a compact team, well led and prepared and that's half the battle won.Talking of hyphenations.. I think it should be simply called the India - South Africa Cup. There's a lot more emotion to that name right now than any player names in hyphenation.