July 31, 2011

How have India remained No. 1 this long?

The credit goes to MS Dhoni, who has shrewdly managed with a thin attack, but leaving England with their top billing intact is the team's biggest challenge

The surprise is not that India could lose their No. 1 Test ranking but rather how they managed to retain it so long.

At the time when India reached the No. 1 spot they didn't have the look of a long-term resident. Unlike the two previous teams that held the top ranking for lengthy periods, India do not have a strong bowling attack. West Indies and Australia not only had four top-class bowlers in their sides, but also a couple of replacements who would have been frontline bowlers in most other Test teams.

India have mostly only fielded three good Test bowlers. Zaheer Khan is undoubtedly the leader of the attack, and Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan Singh have provided occasional glimpses of class, but both are inconsistent. Sreesanth, as he was at Trent Bridge, can be both devastating and disappointing on the same day.

Despite an exceptionally strong batting line-up, India, because their attack has never been dominant, have always given the appearance of being a squatter rather than an owner.

So how have India survived so long at No. 1? The attacking threat of Virender Sehwag has helped enormously. However, a large chunk of India's success can be put down to the shrewd manoeuvring of the captain MS Dhoni.

Dhoni has managed to get the best out of his bowlers. When Zaheer has been out with injury, Dhoni has still found a way to mix and match well enough to beat the opposition. It has helped that Zaheer was available for the toughest challenges against Australia and South Africa. So it's no surprise that with him missing from most of the action at Lord's, India struggled against a strong England side.

Lord's provided India with a double-whammy because Sehwag was also missing. The fact that Dhoni inserted the opposition at Lord's is an indication of how much Sehwag means to India. It was also probably the first sign that even the strong-minded Dhoni was starting to doubt India's bowling. He must have felt that India's underdone attack, especially Zaheer, who was returning from injury, would need all the help they could get, and consequently bowled first under cloudy skies.

Any doubts a captain might have, no matter how hard he tries to disguise them, will show up somewhere in his actions. His own team will most likely suspect he has doubts, and the opposition, if they're any good, will be sure of it.

Dhoni is nothing if not a fighter but the odds are mounting. In the field, his ageing side has bigger cracks than a slip zone; his own keeping has regressed enormously and his bowlers are susceptible to attack

England were quickly aware of Dhoni's doubts. After proceeding cautiously, they pounced when the time was right. A hungry cheetah couldn't have done a better job of plotting and executing the kill.

In keeping India at the top for so long, Dhoni has well and truly fulfilled the most important role of a captain. He has made his team better and got the best out of the players.

However, with Zaheer injured, Sehwag missing, Harbhajan waning and an ageing fielding side gifting runs, Dhoni is currently like the boy at the dyke; every time he plugs a leak another appears.

He managed to plug another hole by giving his bowlers first opportunity on a favourable surface at Trent Bridge. However, the doubts crept in near the end of England's innings, and once again India are fighting to cling to their No. 1 ranking.

Dhoni is nothing if not a fighter but the odds are mounting. In the field, his ageing side has bigger cracks than a slip zone; his own keeping has regressed enormously and his bowlers are susceptible to attack.

England are aware of the bowlers' weaknesses, and will take every opportunity to exploit it. If Dhoni can keep this series level until the cavalry arrives, i.e. Sehwag and Zaheer, he will have performed a captaincy miracle.

To date Dhoni's greatest achievement as Indian captain has been to guide the team to a magnificent World Cup victory. If his team is still at the top of the Test rankings after this series with England, he will have surpassed that monumental achievement.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 3, 2011, 17:02 GMT

    We should negotiate for Steve Waugh as coach

  • Dummy4 on August 3, 2011, 12:39 GMT

    great article and analisis by the best cricket commentator.his comments about india;s no 1 position is absolutely true.those who understand cricket can cleraly makeout that england are going to rule and dominate world cricket.they have great batsmen,great fast bowlers,good allrounders and and the best spinner with strong bench strength.also even before the series started chappel predicted that indian batting will struggle in the absence of shewag.

  • avi on August 3, 2011, 9:35 GMT

    It's a bit disturbing. 4 years ago, yuvi smacked broad 6 sixes and now the roles have reversed. Yuvi,Dhoni and Raina have averages around 40 in first-class. They are only good for IPL and ODI at home. Players like Rahane and rohit sharma are close to 60. I havent been impressed by Duncan Fletcher as he is too relaxed, he doesnt take practice matches and fitness as seriously as Andy Flower. I want to see Shikar Dhawan, Rahane, Pujara, Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ashwin, Iqbal abdulla, Rahul Sharma, Umesh yadav and dhawal Kulkarni introduced. Time for change and now.

  • G on August 3, 2011, 4:32 GMT

    Our bowlers run out of steam after bowling 10 overs. We need to find men with height, broad bone structure & good muscle ratio & train them on how to ball seam, short & fast on pitches like Mohali. We need quick seam bowlers as we've never had trouble finding quality swing or spin bowlers. For an bowling induction candidate, a batting average of 30 and strike rate of 70 should be the minimum criteria, try and find people who have that sought of calibre with bat & good fielding skills, then train them to hone their bowling skills. For induction of batter's, an average of 45 & strike of 70 in test & avg of 40 & strike rate of 85 in one dayers should be the minimum criteria for selection. Inducties should be made to play county cricket least for a season, even if its at BCCI's expense.

  • G on August 3, 2011, 4:31 GMT

    Mr. Dravid, no doubt he's the biggest chipku (sticker) of all time, but his lack of balls i.e. the ability to demoralize the opposition like Sachin & Sehwag can plus his age (evident from droped catches in slips) makes him unworthy of his place. I criticized RD for being slow. Look at the impact that the Innings of Bell & Prior had on the match, they could have scored super slow hundreds like Dravid but that would have only resulted in a draw or loss for England. When the pitch has devils in it you should always try to score at good pace as you never know when a beauty gonna get you out. England's aggression with the bat & ball has won them both the matches. In both tests apart from Sachin I didn't see anyone trying to or had the class to dominate the bowling. Now Sehwag does have these instincts but with the ball doing so much he might be as ineffective as Yuvi. Yuvi & Raina could've altered their stance like KP does to upset the bowler's line n length.

  • Saradha on August 3, 2011, 2:58 GMT

    When Ian wrote this article most of India's one eyed fans jumped on him. I wonder what they are going to say now. Only bowlers win matches set up by batsmen. But in both tests it was failure of all departments including fielding is the problem. Unless we groom bowlers who can take wickets No 1 status will be gone. It is not the loss that hurts, but the total humiliation is ridiculous. BCCI has to take responsibility for this fiasco. Wrong selection, wrong preparation and IPL are the reasons for this inept show by Team India.

  • David on August 2, 2011, 21:30 GMT

    zico123, I completely disagree with you. So far in this series India have been outplayed and have lost both games by huge margins. If India were at full strength, they would probably have been more competitive but would have still lost in my opinion. The reasons for defeat in both games runs far deeper than the fact that a couple of players were absent. Injuries are part of the game and as Greg said, great teams have squads of depth that can cope with such things. For instance if you look at the current England bowling attack of Broad, Bresnan, Anderson and Swann if hypothetically they all got injured for the next game their replacements of Tremlett, Finn, Onions etc and Panesar would in my opinion still be capable of taking 20 Indian wickets.

  • mijanul on August 2, 2011, 14:24 GMT

    @Irfancrazy: With 3 frontline bowlers you can't get 20 wickets for sure. And the only two fasts would need paramedics on the field before the end of the match. Cut Cook bring in Shewag. Send Bell home and retain Vettori/Shakib. Finally I would take Dravid for Trott and Asif/Ameer/M Morkle for Swann.

  • Sameer on August 2, 2011, 8:05 GMT

    India in India is as strong as steel, overseas their strugle continues unfortuanately.But I hope and pray that india will atleast win one of the two matches to come.

  • Dave on August 2, 2011, 6:43 GMT

    @Arvi02. Warne aside, numerous Australian bowlers were successful in India - McGrath and Gillespie for instance took 33 wickets each there at an average of 21. Australia of course did beat India in India in 2004, and everyone home and away. Apart from that they whitewashed everyone at home at some stage, and even more impressively, teams like Sri Lanka and South africa 3-0 away.

    As for India maintaining their position as No.1 for the next 5 years, I`m not sure on what basis you can make this claim.

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