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Time Out with Harsha Bhogle
'India not a long-term No. 1'
January 12, 2010
Ian Chappell and Sanjay Manjrekar guest on the first episode of Time Out, a new fortnightly show
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Harbhajan Singh finished the first day with 4 for 107, India v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Mumbai, 1st day, December 2, 2009
Sanjay Manjrekar: "I have watched Harbhajan Singh for the last three four years in Test match cricket, and I think he has stagnated as an off spinner, which is a pity" © AFP

Harsha Bhogle: Welcome to Time Out with Harsha. Sanjay Manjrekar is here with me in the studio and all the way from Sydney we have with us, our favourite cricket expert Ian Chappell.

The first topic we thought we would touch on is one that has a lot of Indians overjoyed; it doesn't take a lot for us to get overjoyed with cricket matters. It's this whole business of becoming number one in Test cricket; it is almost as if we have ascended a peak. I sometime worry, Sanjay and Ian, whether we go overboard with an achievement, that is, at the time of recording this programme, a little short lived. I would like to think, world No.1 is what the West Indies did, world No.1 is what Australia did.

Sanjay you, in particular, played a lot for India in the late 80s and 90. Does this achievement surprise you; does that please you?

Sanjay Manjrekar: It pleases me Harsha, and I think if we are celebrating that fact then I don't think we are over reacting or getting carried away. Now remaining at the top is another matter, but it is certainly a moment to celebrate.

HB: It is, there is no doubt that getting to number one is something that lot of us did not think was possible. India have gone to Australia [and done well in recent times] and it was bit like beating West Indies when they were in their pomp. And for a long time through the1990s, India did not look like beating Australia. Do you think this rivalry is at the root of India's rise?

Ian Chappell: Well, the fact that India have done so much better in Australia in their last two tours, I think, is an achievement. And it's certainly an achievement to reach No.1.

But in the case of these last two take-overs, it would have please me a lot more if the other teams had actually caught up with West Indies rather than West Indies coming back to the field. In the same way I would have thought it would have been a greater achievement of India's if they had caught up with Australia while Australia was still very much a great side, rather than waiting for Australia to come back to the field. That to me has been the disappointing thing. In the last two cases of the serious No.1s, it seems to me that the other teams have almost thrown their hands and said: it's hard to beat them, we will just wait for them to fall back and then we will catch them. So, yes it's an achievement but it's not as great an achievement as I think it could have been.

HB: I suspect Sanjay, it's as good as it can be. But there is one thing that I have looked at over the years, and especially when you were playing, India's middle order was pretty strong - but I believe that all great teams are built around very good opening batsmen. I just wonder that it's not just a coincidence, but part of the reason that India's success in Test cricket has coincided with the arrival of a stable opening pair.

SM: It's a huge asset to have, a stable opening pair. But I noticed a change in India's batting, around the time when Sourav Ganguly and John Wright were in charge, when I saw India playing on foreign pitches, on the pitches were our team, lead by Mohammad Azharuddin, had generally struggled in South Africa and Australia.

I found that the new generation of Indian batsmen could play the pull shot, the cut shot, and they were pretty good against the short deliveries, which was one of the biggest weaknesses the team of 90s had. We had Azharuddin who was a fine player, but when the ball was dug in short he didn't like it too much, nor did Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was the opening batsman at that time. And there were few others as well; even I did not play the pull shot, so when the ball was pitched short I couldn't score runs. But after that things started to change. Rahul Dravid came in, who is pretty good against the short deliveries. Sachin Tendulkar was always different, Virender Sehwag came in, VVS Laxman came in, and that's the time I started seeing this little change in the ability of Indian batting which was going to help them on the foreign pitches where the ball bounces a little more. It's just something that we have seen change with India's batting over the years.

"I think you have got to have two champion bowlers in your line-up to be a long-term successful cricket team. That is where India is falling down at the moment. When I look at the averages and the strike rates for India in the last 12 months, I don't see two champion bowlers; in fact, I am struggling to find one champion bowler in that line-up. They've got some good bowlers. Sure, they have got a very good batting line-up, but the bowling is really not good enough to see them win consistently to all round the world" Ian Chappell

IC: I would take you to task on one thing though Harsha. I don't think great teams are built on opening batting partnerships. Sure, you probably find that most great teams do have a good opening batting partnership. But too me there is a far more important thing; and this is one reason why I don't rate India as a long term No.1. I think you have got to have two champion bowlers in your line-up to be a long-term successful cricket team. That is where India is falling down at the moment. When I look at the averages and the strike rates for India in the last 12 months, I don't see two champion bowlers; in fact, I am struggling to find one champion bowler in that line-up. They've got some good bowlers. Sure, they have got a very good batting line-up, but the bowling is really not good enough to see them win consistently to all round the world.

HB: In fact I was going to come to you on that point, on what India need to do to stay No.1, rather than hope that England play well against South Africa. I think Ian makes a valid point - can you get 20 wickets?

SM: I think it's very important, first of all, to decide whether India wants to be number one for one year or for two years or for a decade. And I think it should be the latter.

HB: [Laughs] We all are dreaming now, we all are dreaming …

SM: I mean, that's how West Indies made a name for themselves. We all agree that West Indies was the No.1 team, and after that Australia and it's not because they were good for a couple of years. And for that [India remaining No. 1 for long time] to happen the immediate worry, apart from the bowling attack are the senior players. VVS Laxman is not going to play for too long, Sachin Tendulkar is not getting any younger, and same goes for Rahul Dravid.

So when you are talking about 10 years, then you need to quickly find younger players who are cut out to play Test cricket, and can win you matches. Bowling, at the moment, is a distant worry. I have watched Harbhajan Singh for the last three four years in Test match cricket, and I think he has stagnated as an off spinner, which is a pity.

HB: And since we are on this topic, for all the talk about [the decline] of Test cricket I think Test cricket is holding its own better than anything else. And typically Ian, Australia is showing the way with good pitches that are getting good results; South Africa are generating good games …

IC: I don't like to see one team dominate the way West Indies and then Australia did. In essence we had one team dominating world cricket for 30 years which to me is ridiculous. I am delighted that we now have four of five teams that are all around the same ability level.

Another thing about India is they have to find a quality allrounder. One thing I would say about having four or five teams around the same level: there is the same natural ability in cricket, but then there is another reason that makes you a good cricket team and that is the ability to win. South Africa look like they have gone off the rails and the more I look at them the more I feel they are not as good as I thought they were. England, strangely enough, are the big improvers in world cricket. England are putting together a very decent attack. If they can find one genuinely fast bowler, I think they could easily shoot to the top and stay there for some time. They probably need another classy batsman as well.

England celebrate after AB de Villiers gets caught at short leg off Graeme Swann, South Africa v England, 1st Test, Centurion, December 16, 2009
Ian Chappell: "England, strangely enough, are the big improvers in world cricket" © Getty Images

HB: James Anderson looks alright; they have slotted a good role in for Stuart Broad as a lower-order batsman and have not dreamt of playing him at No.7 …

IC: And don't forget Graeme Swann. He is a crucial part of that attack. He is a very good cricketer.

HB: I think he been the big difference: having someone who can bat at No.9 and bowl long spell that allows you to play three seamers.

SM: When you were mentioning the three seamers the name that was coming to my mind was Swann. Just the way he thinks as bowler; and when you see him on the field he is a competitor and I think he has made a huge difference.

HB: It has long been my point if view that if you are the finance leader of the game then you have to match that by being the performance leader and the thought leader as well. I think with the IPL India took steps towards becoming the thought leader and to be fair, India are taking steps towards becoming the performance leader…

SM: Yes, I agree with you. I think we are all excited because there are four teams on par, vying to be the No. 1 team but we are not talking about the quality of Test cricket. You can't say that the quality of all these four teams has improved in the last decade and the other teams have also risen. When I am watching Test cricket today, it is nice to see the rivalry for the top position, but the quality of the cricket disappoints me. I think it has held the interest of only those people who are already interested in Test cricket.

HB: But it happens sometimes doesn't it? To get a close contest, you need four or five teams playing at one level. If you keep your level high then we are unlikely to get four or five teams there. Sometimes interest is actually generated when couple of teams slip down and couple move up and then we have a common playing ground. We have been discussing about Australia and West Indies' dominance, and one of the reasons [for that] was there was no common ground. They were too far ahead of everybody else.

SM: But then when you went to the ground and saw India being slaughtered in West Indies it was a Test to remember because you saw some great fast bowling, dominant bowling and a team that needed to improve as well. So I don't know whether having close competitions at a certain level is more desirable or whether we need high-quality cricket, even if it is a mismatch in the end.

You can listen to lots more on the first episode of Time Out. Harsha, Sanjay and Ian discuss Pakistan's debacle in the Sydney Test; Ian recounts an enthralling Sydney Test that he was part of, and a look at teams who have pulled off such Houdini acts.

Harsha Bhogle is a television presenter, writer, and a commentator on IPL and other cricket. @bhogleharsha

Comments: 37 
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Posted by Rajanikanth on (January 26, 2010, 9:25 GMT)

"When they came into the series, you would have thought Australia had the advantage with pace while India had the advantage in the spin department. Well, what we saw here in Mohali was India having the advantage all-round in bowling. The Indian quickies outbowled their Australian counterparts and there was absolutely no doubt about which team had the class spinners." Source -

Guess who said all this - not very long back about exactly - man to man - the same bowling line-up from India? Mr. Chappell, give us a break. And stop being so systematic about losing all the respect that you have gained

Posted by Venkataraghavan on (January 24, 2010, 12:42 GMT)

...contd... It still hurts Harsha. As a fan of the legends (from SRT to the latest - Sehwag), the only cure for the pain is an Indian series win in Australia when they travel there next year and nothing less than that! Even the World Cup is a mean achievement for me. But for that comparison, the show was really good. Good attempt to have time out here as well, given that we do not often get to to watch these shows online. hope we hear more of this. Coming to India staying there, it needs a champion bowler as IC said. But that bowler cannot necessary be a pace man. We need a champion spinner who knows what patience and grind is. I see Ojha being one. Yes he is a finger spinner. But he doesn't lose his focus if the batsmen attack him. Bhajji starts going wayward if he doesn't get wickets in his first few overs and it gets easy to milk him for runs later on. Either Bhajji has to learn patience or he must be replaced. Simple as that. Of course we need to make Mishra and Chawla better too.

Posted by Venkataraghavan on (January 24, 2010, 12:33 GMT)

The mind is like a stack and so is mine too. Last in first out. There are things which are digestible, Harsha and there are things which are just chewable but not digestible. We can of course chew as well as digest the LBW decision against Sreesanth because the number of times it happened in that test is not as many. I would have rather loved to hear you quoting more such decisions in the very same test. But in case of 2008 SCG, Oz were tottering at 134-6 when Hogg joined Symonds and it was 1911/6 when the caught behind appeal was not given. We could very well have got them under 300 (Considering wrong decisions and dropped catches too) and ended up with a lead of 232! We could even have won the match. Or in case of Dravid's dismissal in the 2nd innings, we could have saved it! If England had won at Lords, the result would have been 1 - 1. If we had won in SCG, the result would have been 2-1 for India! One decision changed the match in Lords whereas it changed the series in SCG.

Posted by Lourens on (January 19, 2010, 19:51 GMT)

I don't agree with Sanjay that the standard of cricket got weaker. I think the modern mindset has changed with the mindset of post-modern culture. To take risks are valued more than playing a good technical game which you know ultimately will lead to a safe result. There are times to play for these, but if it was all the time we would see boring cricket. Many batsmen especially could block all day, but why would they.

Test cricket is to me also more interesting because a game is never lost in a moment. It takes 5 days to lose, but any team can potentially seize the moment and turn the match. It is the team that does this more consistently who wins and thus leads to a fair result. The shorter versions are for consumers who wants short lived shopping sprees of sixes and fours, versus a good battle between bat and ball. In the short versions with batting friendly pitches, if you pitch a huge total most times you will win. Lots of action, but no contest. More flash, less skills.

Posted by Benjamin on (January 17, 2010, 23:20 GMT)

Hahahaha Classice certainly no love lost between Chapellie and Boycs! Classic and so very true.

Test cricket is in a great place at present with 5 teams able to push for number 1. None of them are likely to hold that position long term but like Chaps said it's better to have that than 1 team dominating for a 10-15 year period.

It's the best form of the game and if test can have tight contests then we all win.

Posted by Balaji on (January 15, 2010, 17:01 GMT)

Harsha/Ian, three exceptions to your comments in my opinion:

1. Ian, you said it would have pleased you if India had caught up with Australia when they were in their prime. Let me remind you, since 2000 when the great Australian team of the 2000s came together, India 7 - Australia 7 in 17 Test matches. I agree India wasn't nearly as great as Australia overall in beating other teams, but head to head mate, Australia cannot claim to be better than India !!

2. Harsha, India is #1 now and hence the best team NOW, no one called them one of the best all time teams, so please don't confuse these two accolades..

3. Yes Harsha, Sreesanth did enjoy good fortune in helping India draw at Lords. But in any given Test match, 1 or 2 questionable calls (especially LBWs) are inevitable but the Sydney Test match in 2008 will have to go down in history as one of the worst officiated Test matches (definitely turned the match on its head), so again wrong comparison mate..

Posted by Chinmay on (January 15, 2010, 9:23 GMT)

Indian bowlers' stats don't look so good, but that is because of the lifeless pitches they have to bowl in India. Whenever India tours a place known for seaming pitches -- England, Australia, New Zealand, SA; one of the bowlers puts in match winning performances.

Posted by Muralidhar on (January 14, 2010, 1:28 GMT)

Since 2001, India has played 19 matches at home and away winning 7 losing 6 and 6 draws. Of the wins 4 came against Australia when Australia were at their peak. Therefore, it is not entirely fair to take away from India's splendid achievement.

Posted by shriram on (January 13, 2010, 16:53 GMT)

Mr.Chappell and Mr.Bhogle,India have just now reached the first spot and are yet to play their first test after the achievement.So,I can't understand how you guys have assumed it is short-term.And also,I don't see the relevance of comparing this team with the aus and win team of the past.India are the no1 team among the current teams.Yes,India don't have a most feared bowling attack but currently no one else has such an attack in the world. Australia were not Windies and India are not Australia.India has a batting line-up which is the best in the world which makes for the absence of great bowling attack.India have won series in nz,eng,win,pak. Whether Chappell and Bhogle like it or not,India are the no1and that is the reality.

Posted by muthu on (January 13, 2010, 11:58 GMT)

Let us not get Over enthusiastic about India is no.1 in tests. It is only an intermediary position, no doubt India had played some tremondous cricket for the past 2 years. But one point I beg to differ with Ian chappel, is every team has a defeated mentality against Aussies at one time, when they are at their peak under Steve waugh. It is not so for the couple of occasions When Saurav Ganguly beats them after a loss in Mumbai in 2001 test series with 2-1 win, the team contains lots of big names. Warne, MgGrath, Gillespie, and in 2005 Ashes, These big names were present and still lost the series 2-1 to England, So Chappel is wrong in this regard, And Aussies were never ever was as dangerous as West Indies in their peak periods.

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