India in 2009 December 31, 2009

Hot in Tests, not in the short formats

India scaled the peaks in the few Tests they played, but it wasn't all sunny in limited-overs cricket

This year the space-time India inhabited was anything but the year 2009. Their batsmen challenged norms, redefined audacity, and went at a pace that wouldn't be out of place in 2019. Their fielding - and for the major part their bowling - slipped into an era gone by: in the limited-overs game, they would have been put to shame by some sides from 1999. In a period of three weeks India beat their record for highest Test score in a day, then beat it again, conceded more runs in a day than they had ever before, and a higher total in India than ever before. In ODIs they led the way both in scoring 300-plus totals (10 times) and conceding them (nine times).

What India sowed in 2008, they reaped in 2009, becoming the No. 1 side in ODIs for a brief while, and ending the year as the No. 1 Test side, despite having played only six Tests. Three of those were away matches against seventh-ranked New Zealand, and the others were home games against Sri Lanka, who had never previously won in India. In a frenzied year of extremes - unbelievable batting performances, first win in New Zealand in 40 years, fielding bordering on the ridiculous, first-round exits from two world events, and then the eventual rise to top of Test rankings - they found time to show character and save two Tests from losing positions.

In a crunched calendar they also found time to provide some comic relief through the leaked sex dossier and the parading of team unity in a press conference. Around those two trivial events lurked a serious doubt regarding the techniques of the new batting stars and the sudden bare look that the fast-bowling cupboard wore.

The first ones to panic after the bouncers exposed some of the younger batsmen at the World Twenty20 were the selectors. Back came Rahul Dravid, out went the youngsters. The Champions Trophy on bouncy pitches in South Africa negotiated, out went Dravid and back came the youngsters. The message sent to both parties could not have been worse: Dravid was left with reason to be feel slighted; the Rohit Sharmas and the Suresh Rainas were effectively told that they could not be trusted.

The next ones to panic were the BCCI, who summarily sacked without reason and without notice Venkatesh Prasad, the bowling coach, and Robin Singh, the fielding coach, a day before Diwali. Towards the end of the year, when the bowlers were struggling to defend 414 in an ODI and the fielders were dropping catches like hot bricks, Prasad and Robin would have spared themselves a smile. As the last match of the year, the Delhi ODI, proved, the board still had more sacking to do.

If the youngsters were still finding their feet, it was reassuring how Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid and VVS Laxman - part of the infamous voluntary-retirement scheme last year - looked good to last beyond 2011, the year of the devil, the year of the World Cup. Twice Tendulkar, now 20 years old in international cricket, threatened to score a double-century in an ODI; Dravid finally got rid of his temporary habit of fluffing good starts; and although Laxman scored just one century, not many can find fault with an average of 67.28.

The positives of 2009, though, can best be summed up by the contributions of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni. Sehwag represented ambition, creativity and disrespect for decorum. His two ODI centuries in fewer than 70 balls, his 284 runs in one Test day, his admission that he felt sorry for the bowlers he dismantled, the way he played around with the definition of a bad ball, were pure joy.

Gambhir embodied ruthlessness and toughness, batting in the Dravid mould, drawing the Napier Test by playing out of his skin, overseeing the Ahmedabad draw, scoring four centuries in nine Test innings, and twice getting 150 in the ODIs.

Dhoni, safe, inconspicuous and still an unbeaten captain in Tests, was the rock around which the ODI team flourished. He let the flashier batsmen play their natural games, yet finished as the world's joint-highest run-getter for the year and reinforced his reputation as the best ODI batsman in the world.

The year, which ended as it began, with ODI series wins against Sri Lanka, seemed too long. When India were failing in the limited-overs formats, their impressive showing in New Zealand was forgotten. When their last Test of the year took them to No. 1, the BCCI started to try and squeeze more Tests into the programme, to defend the ranking. Suddenly it was as if the World Twenty20, the Champions Trophy, the loss to a second-string Australia, hadn't happened. Yes, there was no time in 2009 to pause and reflect. Yes, we don't know which year India actually inhabited.

High point
Getting to No. 1 was reward for hard work over the decade, not just this year. It had been a long journey towards the top, which started perhaps from the time India won the Kolkata Test of 2001. There were many obstacles they had to clear along the way: start fighting outside the subcontinent, find suitable openers, find genuine fast bowlers, finish games, salvage draws from impossible situations. It took them 10 years to get there, and obviously it was going to be a special moment when they finally did, through their win in the Brabourne Test, marked by a Sehwag special.

Low point
Since Dhoni has become captain, India have enjoyed a proud record in bilateral series. They were not hot in the world events, though. They hardly put up a defence of their World Twenty20 crown, and fizzled out of the Champions Trophy without a fight. Is it the knockout atmosphere that is getting to them? They will want to prove otherwise.

What 2010 holds
Thankfully there seems to be an acknowledgment that being No. 1 in ICC rankings and being the best are not synonymous. To become the best, India need to beat South Africa, Australia and Sri Lanka away. That journey will start towards the end of 2010, with India travelling to South Africa. Apart from that, the board will have to find time to arrange more Test matches for an aspiring side: six is not nearly enough.

Limited-overs cricket will keep putting pressure on the bowlers and fielders. They will get a go at the World Twenty20 again, before the road to the 2011 World Cup begins.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • RC on January 1, 2010, 19:08 GMT

    Contd...Regarding Sporting declarations,Yeah.. I do agree that Aus did that quite a few times and I'm not expecting this Indian side to do the same in near future and there are several reasons for that ..I dont want to go deep into those reasons as that'll start another discussion but my point is Aus never do that against the teams like India and SA and the best example is Sydney 2008 where Ponting didn't declare the innings untill India's chances are out of the equation even though they are on the verge of equalling 16 consec wins once again( ofcourse they went on to win that test match thanks to Clarke and ...) infact they're afraid of enforce the follow on to name a few..Bangalore and Nagpur in 2004..So its like the Aus teams are sportive all the time and the others not.. infact Smith did that last time agnst Aus and lost that Test Match and even KP did that in India and went on to lose that test match and its nothing to do with the No 1 position r dominating the others,IMO.

  • RC on January 1, 2010, 18:44 GMT

    @santhoshkudva..Thats what I'm trying to say..Don't you think its too early to ask Team India 2 achieve everything? It took 35 years 2 beat India in India 4 them,thanks 4 bloody politics in BCCI but you want this Indian team 2 do all these things in the early days..and my point is its a continuous process n it took 2-3 years of consistent performance from Team India 2 reach this stage.I didn't said that they r unbeatable like Aus (in late 90s and early00s) but my point is it is unfair 2 degrade the achievements of this Indian side and its too early 2 ask them 2 be like that Aus side when the Aus team itself took 35 yrs 2 beat a mediocre Indian side in India and we r not that bad in SA and Aus as everyone thinks we almost won a series in Aus n lost a close battle in SA and again i'm not trying to say that I'm happy with this almost thing but one can write off this Indian Teams chances in Aus r SA anymore and they knew it and I believe the series wins in Aus n SA r not far away.

  • santhosh on January 1, 2010, 16:46 GMT

    ..contd... sach is life, i also commented that being number one is more than just statistics. here is something that the 'former' number one team has done: 1-won 16 tests on the trot, done it twice 2-beat south africa on every tour since their readmission 3-whitewashed england 5-0. even though this was at home, we must bear in mind that we are content with 1-0 series victories over england at home. and also bear in mind, the 5-0 was 'ACHIEVED WITH PURPOSE' 4-go to england and win atleast 3 tests in a series. we win one, and hang on to draws in the other tests 5-respect test cricket.

  • santhosh on January 1, 2010, 16:35 GMT

    sach is life, to answer your question, Australia won a test series in india in 2004, not too long back. may i put the question back to you, how many times have we done the same in Australia? and would you please tell me if Australia would have batted a second time against england resting on a 360 run lead and with a day and half left? and about the declarations coming against weaker teams, it is not the strength of the opponent, but the situation in which they declare. would any Indian captain dare to dangle a 4th innings carrot in front of an opponent? and where were you when Deep dasgupta and our Wall put ahmedabad to sleep with little over 300 to get and 10 wickets intact on the final day? sorry to say this, but the way we play test cricket is appalling. if the risk of a defeat is involved, we are more than happy playing out a draw. also, don't let the smokescreen of tumbling records on flat tracks deceive you.

  • RC on January 1, 2010, 11:50 GMT

    @ santhoshkudva ....Simple Question - How many times that unbeatable Aus beats India in India ? Do you know that India haven't lost a test match since SL tour last year that is in last 12 matches where they won 8 test matches both home and away against teams like Aus,SL,Eng,Nz. So,wat else you want them to do? Don't you think that thats enough for a team to justify their position as NUMBER 1.Is it their fault that Aus was not formidable as they used to be and BTW, I think you didn't remember that India was the only team that gave them sleepless times both home and away from 2001 onwards.Regarding that sporting declarations,How many times that happend against India? It is one thing to do that against teams WI,PAK in Aus and to that against India,SA.Ask them to do the same against all the teams both home and away ..then we can talk abt it..and dont forget that this is the begining for the Team India and lets hope that they'll dominate the cricket world like Aus did for long time..!

  • deepak on January 1, 2010, 9:15 GMT

    Here are dhonis performances in odi world cup and champions trophy

    World Cup 2007-2007 3 29 29 9.66 \ Champions Trophy 2006-2009 6 89 51 22.25

    isnt three major tournaments enough to tell the quality of the batsman?go and check for yourself the performances of sachin kp ricky ponting in world cups and champions trophy.Dhoni is not even comparable to can he be the best odi batsman around?his only hope is 2011 wc in india where the pitches are flat.But i dont see him winning any matches for india even then. As for short pitched stuff he is weak and that shows in his test performances.(bcos that is where u cant escape from it bcos no limit of ten overs)

    here are them: in australia avg v Australia 4 141 38 17.62in sa: v South Africa 2 104 47 26.00 If any of us hope that dhoni is going to win any major tournament then sorry if we win 2011 wc it wil be primarily cos of sachinsehwag n the rest.

  • PC on January 1, 2010, 5:19 GMT

    Monga seems to have forgotten that in 2009 India won 4 bilateral series and ended up with the best win-loss record in ODIs among all test playing nations (bar Bangladesh, whose ODI wins were largely against Zimbabwe). Why are we hell-bent on damning the Indian side's achievements so much? Ironically, it is always the Indian media which is at the forefront of this negative campaign.

  • Saptarshi on January 1, 2010, 3:40 GMT

    As far as flat pitches, as soon as a juicy wicket was made in Delhi guess what happened? Wasn't it some of the Lankan posters who were complaining about flat pitches?

  • santhosh on January 1, 2010, 2:54 GMT

    yes, we are number one because some other team had a bad year. everybody here answer one question honestly, would we still have been number one if Australia were as formidable as they were three years back? the point that i am trying to make is, Australia were number one purely on their own terms. no matter how good other teams became, Australia always managed to raise the bar. and number one is more than just statistics: they visit other countries and murder them. while all other countries consider overseas victories as 'bonuses'. how many teams can boast of sporting declarations, and are always seeking out results in tests? how many Indian teams are looking for victories if the second innings start on an even footing? we are always looking to draw tests in such conditions.

  • Amit on January 1, 2010, 0:45 GMT

    Agree with some posters here. Lots of negativity about Indias number # 1 ranking. Why does India's #1 have be compared with how Australia performed when they were #1. Australia in this decade and WI in 1980 were the two of the three best ever side to play test cricket. Indis'a #1 ranking is based on comparison with other team at this point in time, and has nothing to do with comparing with Australian team of 5 years ago. Also, as some pointed out, the only team that can match up with India right now is SA, not Australia, which is at about par with England and SL. Given India's current batting lineup, I cant see any team getting them out twice cheaply in a test match (at home or away). BTW, Mendis was a freak bowler, who is now decoded and the 76 allout against SA, has more to do with Indian focussing on IPL hype than on playing test cricket.

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