December 11, 2009

India must celebrate and move on

It's more difficult to stay at the top than to get there

India have not set foot on the summit by stepping off a helicopter; they have got there after establishing several base camps and making steady, sometimes hazardous, progress. India's ascent is not a point, it is currently a curve; it is not a moment in time but part of a phase. Any attempt to think otherwise would be unfair and shortsighted.

And so while India must celebrate, it must be with a sense of history. This lot of players has put the ribbon on the box, but the cake was baked by many; they have scored a goal but you usually cannot do so unless someone has passed the ball to you. And that is why the only aspect of this moment that disturbs me is the cash award to this team. I am not a huge fan of cash awards to professional players - they are presumably paid to win anyway - but the announcement of this particular one ignores the fact that various others set it up over the last five years.

In particular, India have been served by three very fine captains before the hugely impressive current incumbent. Very few good teams win with inadequate leaders anyway. Under Sourav Ganguly, India realised that winning overseas was an option, and India have much for which to thank a player the world found very convenient to misunderstand. Rahul Dravid was the perfect captain to follow, with his strong commitment to the team and to the cause. It is easily forgotten that under him India won in the West Indies for the first time in 35 years and in England for the first time in 21. And Anil Kumble was the leader at a decisive moment in Indian cricket: in Australia in 2008, where the Test win in Perth must rank on par with the win at Kolkata in 2001 for significance.

Don't forget, too, that Mahendra Singh Dhoni's current record reads: played 10, won seven, lost zero. Included in that is a series win against Australia, an away win in New Zealand, and now one against Sri Lanka. There are no freebies there. Something is right in Indian cricket.

Indeed, India's current position is good for world cricket, as indeed South Africa's little reign at the top was. Three teams competing for No. 1 is always better for the sport than a giant blocking everyone's path.

I am a little concerned at the state of denial in some parts of the world, with the continued devaluation of India winning in India. This is not accompanied by a similar attitude to Australia winning at home, or for that matter South Africa or England doing so

But I am a little concerned at the state of denial in some parts of the world, with the continued devaluation of India winning in India. This is not accompanied by a similar attitude to Australia winning at home, or for that matter South Africa or England doing so. India's winning streak has not been due to financial jugglery, which is a convenient myth in itself, but due to good cricket. To assign other reasons - and what a pity that is being attempted - is to undermine players of extraordinary pedigree.

And these are not just batsmen. True, Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Ganguly, Yuvraj, Dhoni (even Jaffer and Karthik at key moments) are extraordinary players, and they have set up many victories, but to focus on them would be unfair to those that take 20 wickets. Against England, home and away, Zaheer Khan was the Player of the Series; against Australia it was the very impressive Ishant Sharma, who will soon be leading India's attack again. Amit Mishra and Sreesanth have had their moments in the sun, and Harbhajan has taken more wickets than many of us think he has.

But as with all success, India must celebrate the moment and move on. Australia and South Africa are fine teams and Sri Lanka have just the man to drive their transition. As business leaders will tell you, it is more difficult to stay on top than to get there. India need to groom batting replacements, and there are only two on the horizon: the scarcely tested Murali Vijay and the untested Cheteshwar Pujara. Harbhajan Singh desperately needs competition to take him to another level, but more important, India will have to find a way to ensure that players of serious ability, like Rohit Sharma, Sreesanth, Ishant and RP Singh, don't lose their way. And it will call for people with vision at the top. They exist but they are in a bit of a melee at the moment with others of various hues and political colour.

Isn't it ironic, though, that for a country accused of devaluing the game, India are struggling in Twenty20 cricket but are atop the summit of the most traditional form of the game? Maybe there is a story there.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Gaurav on December 12, 2009, 11:39 GMT

    There are many people here who say that India doesn't deserve being no.1 cause they haven't won a series in Aus and SA.they must recall that the ranking shows the current no. 1 team. that means you ought to see at maximum 3 years(the latest series counting the most) to decide a team's performance.Although Aus has a brilliant record in the last 3 or 4 years but just take a look at their current series:- 3 losses out of 5.i think it automatically makes them ineligible for the no.1 spot.While SA have just lost 1 series in the past 2 years,Ind are not too far behind losing just 2 series in the past 2 years including the controversial one in Australia they could have won. What clinches the no.1 spot for Ind is the fact that they haven't lost a single test in the past one year playing against team such as Aus,Eng and SL at home and NZ away. In the meantime SA has lost 3 matches including 2 at home. i think it is enough evidence to suggest that India is the current best as compared to others.

  • Alex on December 12, 2009, 11:28 GMT

    Django is right about umpiring. i forgot. We all forgot. India won because of bad umpiring. Dilshan was not out both times. No pin needle drop sound on that from indian viewers ,journalist or BCCI. SLA can't do anything about it because they get the money only BCCI decide to play them. So it is as bad as sydney in someway. India is not real number 1. Bad umpiring (3rd test) , Bad pitch (kanpur) - deliberately designed to beat South africa because india was trailing in the series.

    I accept BCCI is devious. Who are not?. Every country does this sort of thing , only indians ready to accept it is what it is. Money brings justice.

  • param on December 12, 2009, 11:02 GMT

    I am pretty sure if the current Indian team faces the current Aussie team in australia they will defeat them easily . In South Africa tho, they have always struggled more. having said that, as someone said , even Aus has only won ONE series in India , SA , I dont remember how many , but in recent times , i think they have won only one too in india. Having said that, even Eng won in SA in 2004-05 , however that aint enough to get them to #1 ranking. What I am saying is , if India won just one series in SA, Aus,would we consider them to be truly #1 then? If so, then the day is not far away, ince the aussies are on a decline. If not, then all of you guys who are arguing and sticking up for aus to be #1 team, kindly shut up.

  • jamshed on December 12, 2009, 10:50 GMT

    Intcamd,give me a break.The great Australian sides of recent years cannot be compared with this Indian side.Twice,they had winning streaks of 16 test matches.There was a wide gulf separating them from the rest of the pack.They excelled in every department of the game.The bowling had stalwarts like Warne and McGrath.Their fielding was outstanding.In both these departments,this Indian side is fairly ordinary.On a good day,even the present Pakistan side (which is very weak itself) can beat this Indian side. There was one asterik against that Australian side (not winning in India),this Indian side has to win in Australia,in South Africa,in Sri Lanka.Jingoism aside,can we just have an objective analysis ?

  • Paul on December 12, 2009, 10:24 GMT

    Harsha, I'm a big fan, but I think in this case YOU are the one in a state of denial, from reading your key paragraph. Australia are constantly criticised for scheduling the Gabba test first, before visiting sides become accustomed to local conditions. South Africa can't seem to win at home, lately, so who knows what the reaction would be. And when England win at home, it's way overblown by the home supporters, uncannily like we're seeing in India at the moment. Sorry, the reason people devalue Indian home victories is because of their poor overseas record. I'm sure you've spent enough time in Australia to have heard us liken the Indian cricket team as Koalas - comfortable at home, but killed on the road.

  • I.A. on December 12, 2009, 9:49 GMT

    Perfect Sir Harsha, I was actually waiting for you to say something about it..Everything is so right about Ganguly, Dravid and Kumble. They should also be awarded. and about home advantage folks dont you think this is what actually makes cricket so Interesting... Though everything is same wherever you play everything is different.. About India being #1 and australians not being to digest it well may be they expecting a team to win more than 10 matches in a row to be number 1. That wont happen again and like Harsha says its great for Test Cricket. Now if India plays SA home or away India has 50/50 chances of winning it. That itself makes India #1

  • venkataramana rao on December 12, 2009, 9:36 GMT

    Fact is that Australian performances have been inconsistent over the last 2/3 years since many of the top players have retired and the rankings have reflected that. India, SA, Australia all seem capable of both winning/losing home and away. Hence the close contest between the top 3 ( even top 5 - if we consider SL and England) and the rankings do reflect that. Indian performances in India have been good ( Except against SA which has been a bit of a struggle both home and away)& away wins against Pakistan, West Indies, England , New Zealand tell their story too. Even in Australia it was a close series marred by poor decisions and the result could have easily gone the other way. No one is claiming India is vastly superior to other teams but the top ranking is current and absolutely fair. India still need to conquer the SA conundrum ( rather than Aus) but that is a different story altogether. From when did the top spot come without summits to conquer...

  • Bheem on December 12, 2009, 8:18 GMT

    FACTS FROM LAST 3 YEARS: a) India beat Eng in Eng; b) India achive 1-2 in SA; had beaten hosts at the Wanderers; c) India achieve 1-2 in Aus, beating hosts at the WACA, while Steve Bucknor beat Ind at Sydney; d) India achieve 1-2 in SL; e) India hammer Aus 2-0 at home, beat Eng 1-0 at home, thro' terrific chase; f) India win in NZ (btw, also dominating in the ODIs); g) India hammer SL 2-0 at home (Funnily, Sanga concedes they were outbatted & outbowled; later throws up a RIDICULOUS CLAIM that umpires cost them 500 did he arrive at that no.? Was Dilshan going to make 500 runs?? Why didn't he reject the 2-0 result and protest to the ICC?? And why did he and his team go to a party right after the match to join in India's celebrations??). BOTTOM LINE: India are deservedly in the Top 2 (the rankings of 1 and 2 could keep changing periodically). Some sour grapes can't handle the resurgence of Asian powers...but they will have to get used to it!

  • Satyajit on December 12, 2009, 8:01 GMT

    @Django, i had better impression about Sangakkara before the series. He behaved like a cry baby at the end of the test series. SL claim that had Dilshan not been given out at 114 in first innings he would have slammed a double ton, but interestingly Dilshan never went beyond 168 in his career (11 tons). His second innings judgement was lot more marginal (ex English spinner Robert Croft opined it was out). SL managed to lose both tests by innings and most of their batsmen didn't show the guts and persaverance when required. Sangakkara played a good innings when it was all lost. Coming to Sydney test, inspite of the wrong decisions India should have drawn the test (and hence series) but India's tail couldn't even play for 7 mins (3 tailenders) and lost it. That's a lot closer than innings defeat! But a defeat is always a defeat. The score book always shows it as a lost test and points awarded to Aus.

  • Bheem on December 12, 2009, 8:00 GMT

    Clearly, some Aussies and some Springboks just can't handle the resurgence of coloured people! Hey @popcorn, AUSTRALIA'S BEST YEARS ARE IN THE PAST...THEY ARE NO LONGER NO.1...LOST 2-0 IN INDIA, LOST 2-1 IN ENGLAND, LOST 2-1 TO SA AT HOME...IN TROUBLE AGAINST THE WI...THAT IS YOUR PRESENT STATUS! Now, South Africa are MUCH BETTER THAN AUS and so the INDIA-SA BATTLES IN 2010 (1 home series and 1 away) will give us the UNAMBIGUOUS ANSWER TO WHO IS NO.1 AND WHO IS NO. 2.

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