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Rating The Surprising Indians

by P Rajan - August 28
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Some days ago, VVS Laxman, nursing his knee back to health in Australia, said, John Wright believes 'we can be the best team in the world'.

He said it's what they believe in the dressing room too.

No, VVS Laxman wasn't on Valium, or caught in some hallucinogenic trance. It's why he also quickly chipped in to add, 'yes, we are inconsistent, too'.

Reading James Joyce's Ulysses is one stretch is easier than figuring out this Indian cricket team. Are they wimps who have the odd good day, or warriors in the making.

Let's just say this: in the next five years, any one day trophy they win is because God's in a benevolent mood and they're due; but in the next five years, they could --though this too takes the optimism of a over-zealous patriot --- become a competitive Test team.

They came back from a Test down to humble Australia; they won a Test in Zimbabwe (in India's context, like the blind man who recently climbed Everest) and drew the series; they were a Test down in Sri Lanka (again abroad) and have levelled the series.

Ganguly's record tells you he's a winning captain; his teams ability to rebound tells you their faith in him; and his 98 not out tells you reports of demise are clearly exaggerated. Sack him? Get a grip, dudes.

Changing this team for the third Test, with Laxman and Tendulkar and Nehra out, serves little purpose. Rating them individually is harder. But in order of importance....

1) Dravid: The key to his team, everyone's captain in waiting. His demeanour reflects in his batting --- a steady maturity, a silent but furious ambition. Says both his timing and feet movement are better, and plays according to the demands of the pitch. The fulcrum.

2) Ganguly: Ends a run of 13 mediocre scores, but one fine innings is not enough reassurance, especially against faster bowling. Still, his instinctively aggressive nature (he takes risks, some must fail) is essential to this team's desire to win.

3) Das: Hasn't had the greatest tour, and when he's there too often the scoreboard moves slower than a grandfather's clock that hasn't been wound. Needs to accelerate slightly, but an opening partnership is the key to any Indian resurgence and he has the technique Ramesh doesn't.

4) Harbhajan: Although Prasad and Zaheer took 9 wickets between them in Sri Lanka's second innings, and the islanders play spin better than the Aussies, he has that X factor, the ability that is to alter matches. Usually good for a few runs too, something India's tail has never been known for.

5) Kaif: Too few Test matches old but players think highly of him, and with Tendulkar gone, there is too much reliance on Ganguly-Dravid, and he needs to step forward. This is a risky rating, but Kaif's due a big score to advertise his class and I feel its not too far off.

Zaheer: With Srinath gone, he's India's primary strike bowler, and though still learning his craft, has the pace and aggression that Prasad doesn't have, though not the guile. If Sri Lanka start well in the third Test they'll be hard to stop; by playing through injury displays a quality of courage not usually apparent in this team.

Ramesh: Has the demeanour of one of the sleepier, original Musketeers, but bats with the flourish of D'Artagnan. Subject of endless debate: what counts, runs on the board, or how you get them, and 47 and 31 in the second Test provides part of the answer. Needs to be lucky.

Prasad: The workhorse on his last gallop, always disappointed that he's been a shadowy figure, always the first to be dropped, keen to emphasise his best days not over. Ego is a great motivator, and with his magnificent slower ball (cynics tell you they all are), and steady line and length, could provide one last triumphant performance.

Dighe: Gets the job because of two reasons: no one else is good enough, and he's a street fighter who likes the taste of blood after a good scrap. Considering his batting's on and off, his wicket-keeping slightly better this series, it's a marvellous asset.

Badani: A man personally I have high hopes for, considered more a one day player, being undone by poor shot selection, he has great desire, and is new, but needs an innings of substance to stay in the team.

Harvinder: The unknown quantity, stays in because of lack of fast-bowling options.

Prediction: A lot depends on what pitch the rattled Sri Lankans go for. A lifeless pitch would mean a dull end to a effervescent series. India escaped in the second Test despite some uninspired first innings batting; a repetition might be fatal.

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Any cricket team's most searching examination... June 1

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