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.
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
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