October 16, 2010

A team with remarkable belief

India's performances in the second innings of Tests are indicative of how the team has progressed since Sydney 2008
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Sachin Tendulkar's paddle-sweep off Nathan Hauritz to seal the series 2-0 against Australia is a moment India and their fans will cherish and look back to often. For one, for a change the chase was set up by two youngsters, who could be the future of the team, and in the winning frame were two veterans, Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, who didn't often have batsmen finishing what they left unfinished in their younger days.

More importantly, it reminded one of the same shot from the same batsman to finish off a chase of 387 in Chennai less than two years ago. Between those two paddle-sweeps, India have successfully chased more than 200 on two occasions, nearly doubling their tally of such wins.

Since Sydney in 2008, which is considered a turning point of sorts for this team, India haven't lost a Test batting fourth. Over this period they have drawn once batting fourth, twice after having fallen behind by big margins in the first innings, three times after having conceded more than 500 in the first innings of the match; and they have come back to level four series.

The results haven't been a fluke: this team - the Test team, not the limited-overs one - has remarkable belief in their abilities. It says a lot about their mental strength, which more than anything has been their hallmark over the last two or three years. Except for the 2000-01 home series against Australia, when India elevated themselves to a completely different space, it is difficult to remember a time when they refused to lose Test matches on so many occasions in so short a span of time.

Perhaps that is why MS Dhoni, the captain, made it a point to credit the team even without being asked. After Bangalore, he said, "One good thing in both the Test matches, even though the last-innings targets were not huge, was that there was pressure on both the sides. Ultimately it was a close finish in both the games. You may look at this scorecard and say this was an easy win, but still there was nervousness in the dressing room."

The subconscious shift in the thinking is hard to not notice. Targets of 216 and 207 are now not considered "huge", never mind that India have scored more to win Tests only on six occasions.

The other pleasing aspect has been that everybody has contributed. If Virender Sehwag has set up wins, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar have been superb in fourth innings, and Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid have done their bit in saving matches. The bowlers, injured and often not the best possible combinations, have managed to be heroes every time India have fallen behind in series. Be it Abhimanyu Mithun and Pragyan Ojha toiling away in Sri Lanka, Zaheer Khan showing his amazing skills with the old ball on flat pitches, Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth finding inspirational spells against the run of play, or Harbhajan Singh picking up the last few wickets in Kolkata with the clock ticking away loudly, they have managed to take 20 wickets on 15 occasions since Sydney.

All the players credit the team of Dhoni and Gary Kirsten - especially the coach - for the mental turnaround. They say that the management has put the team in a happy place from where they can give their best.

The same cannot always be said of the people who decide the schedules. For it is also true that India have let themselves into situations where they have to dig deep in almost every series. It doesn't help that fitness and workload management remain issues. Mohali was the first time, across formats, that India played a first-choice XI since Sri Lanka visited last year. It can't be a mere coincidence, then, that India remain slow starters, beginning two series over the said period with innings defeats and one with a ten-wicket loss. That they remain a fighting No. 1 side, as opposed to a dominating one.

These are interesting times for the Indian Test side. They sit pretty at the top of the ICC rankings, so pretty that there are chances they might stay there even if they lose all their upcoming Tests in South Africa. Still, the ranking will feel hollow if India falter over the next year.

Lots will happen. There will be the World Cup distraction, the big three in the middle order will start making farewell plans, and there will be four overseas tours: South Africa, the West Indies, England and Australia. As it stands, India have beaten Australia in a series at home and lost away, drawn with South Africa at home and lost away, beaten England both home and away, won against Sri Lanka at home and drawn away. The next year will be a great chance to tick those unticked boxes, but it will need all the character India have shown over the last two years. One thing, though, is sure: not many will be writing this team off.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Proteas123 on October 19, 2010, 12:29 GMT

    hindh88 - 'SA always choke in big moments'. That is a big statement to make considering India's poor record against SA. There is no evidence to support what you are saying in tests, but if you want to under estimate SA, go ahead. Remember test and T20s are not played on the same pitches and in tests you can bowl more short stuff. Last time India was in SA, SA won after being 1-0 down, which rarely happens. Maybe it is india who need to worry about choking. By the way SA lost in league stage and not the semi final, check your facts.

  • Hindh on October 19, 2010, 10:10 GMT

    @wolver first of all this is tests and SA always choke in big moments. U said India suspect of short balls in t20" but in tests u can leave the ball alone or smash it. FYI india won their T20 world cup in SA in which SA choked against india in semi finals.

  • Proteas123 on October 19, 2010, 8:52 GMT

    Gopal Krishna Sharma Nandyala - You are right, SA has wasted some of their chances but that does not change the fact that India plays too many home games and that has inflated their ranking. MasterClass - SA are not chokers in tests and not against India. SA is in fact a fighting team that is never out of it. Once you are on top of India, they normally fold. Hopefully this time it will be different. SA batting is not fragile, man for man as good as india and probably better in SA. Ind batting supect against pace, look at last two 20/20 world cups. India could not beat SA in India, so how come you think they can win comfortably in SA? msagar - One pole in an article does not count for much. You are embarassing your self comparing Sachin to the Don, Better avg, strike rate and overall player, no comparrison. Kallis is better than Sachin, almost as good bat and good bowler, check the stats. Agree Sachin is best indian batsman although even this can be debated.

  • memoriesofthepast on October 19, 2010, 7:20 GMT

    SFay-Developing , encouraging, coaching and team selection from a population of less than 23 million will be much much easier compared to the population of India in terms of manpower, money and space requirements. Inspite of that the performance of India in cricket and in other sports is very good. Aus media was praising the facilities provided at CWG, 2010. Aus have no problems of huge population or scarcity of land area and food or life threatening dangers like border terrorism/war. So in the absence of such adverse conditions, it is not an extraordinary achievement that Aus have won 4 world cups or taken 1st position in CWG-it should have won more cups and medals.

  • MrMMJ on October 19, 2010, 3:01 GMT

    Australia was #1 for so many years in test matches as per the ICC ranking system. The same ranking system says that India is #1 team as of now. Where is the problem. Since when we have another ranking system which says Undisputed or Disputed #1 or #2. The team which does good in a particular given time gets the better marks and gets the #1. India is doing better then its peers for last 2 years and #1 ranking just confirms that. I have no doubt that India is no. 1 at this moment as I had no doubt about Australia for so many years. There are no different rules or parameters for other teams in ICC's ranking system.

  • msagar on October 19, 2010, 2:26 GMT

    @ Nick. You claim to be an Aussie and you seem to be confused about Sachin's achievements mate. Ron Reed wrote an article in Herald Sun in Australia titled "Tendulkar second to Don" - read it. The newspaper also carried out a poll on "Is Tendulkar the second best batsman of all time" and an overwhelming over 85% of Aussies answered 'Yes'. You must obviously be in the minority 15% of Aussies mate. Reference: Heraldsun- Look under sport/cricket on "Tendulkar second to Don" Also, because it was an Australian poll it was so titled - if it was done by someone independent the poll would have been "Is Tendulkar the greatest batsman" and the answer would still have been 85% in the affirmative. Good luck mate.

  • Hindh on October 19, 2010, 2:23 GMT

    India what a series win .....chak de india.....

  • MasterClass on October 19, 2010, 0:58 GMT

    Anyone who doesn't think that Zak, Ishant and Shree or 3rd pace bowler will be a torrid handful for the Saffers has zero understanding of cricket. So while Styne and Co will be tough, Zak and Co won't be any less. Add to that Bhajji, Ojha (or hopefully Ashwin) and you've got a potent bowling arsenal that should have no problem taking 20 SA wickets, given their FRAGILE batting line-up. On the other hand India has a ROCK-SOLID batting line-up. Besides Saffers are CHOKERS!!! And India are the new CLOSE-OUT CHAMPIONS!!! BTW SA has a few low, slow and turning wickets as well, except they don't have have any spinners that can exploit those conditions. The odds are not looking good for the Saffers!

  • Stevo_ on October 18, 2010, 22:03 GMT

    @memoriesofthepast "India is 2nd highest in terms of medal count and will improve further in future" and your point is what ? Australia was 1st in the medal count with a population of less than 23 million.

  • Stevo_ on October 18, 2010, 21:56 GMT

    @cskfangg

    India is the "best team ever" ? Now that is a stretch for even the most one-eyed Indian fan . .

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