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Few conclusions from India-England Test series 2008 - Chetan Narula Column
by Chetan Narula
Dec 27, 2008
The last two matches played by India this year may not have taken place and no one would have complained such were the circumstances. But they did happen and that left us with some pointers.

First and foremost, England were indeed very brave to make a return trip within seven days. One doesn't have any qualms about saying that Australia would never have returned and a few other teams would have had long thoughts about it, without much action. But the Poms did come back and that will be one of the bravest examples that will be used as a marker for deciding the future of many a cricket tours to the sub-continent.

Having said that some people allege that the IPL riches were the only magnet that pulled these cricketers here! But look at it this way. By returning, the English cricketers may have actually saved the IPL. The T20 league is one of the strongest cards that the BCCI plays in the cricketing world and everyone wants a piece of it. If like the Champions League T20, the second season of the IPL wasn't going to happen with players refusing to come to these shores, then, the muscle clout that the Indian Board displays would have been weakened considerably. So by returning, the English cricketers have proved that India is still a safer place than probably some other destinations and thus made sure that the world will again descend, come the second IPL season in April. The English players should actually be allowed to take home as much cash as they can from the BCCI coffers for their part!

Talking about the cricket, the two Test series was actually a stark reminder of the year that has been for Indian cricket. On the one hand, there have been highs which, admitting candidly, haven't been witnessed in quite some time. Winning in Perth and then the CB series victory are prime examples of the same. And then there have been the lows, where any one who has even an iota of interest in the cricketing affairs of this country would have exclaimed, "Hold on, what is going on here?" The famed batting order crumbling in Sri Lanka the biggest case-in-point!

Victory in the first test was stupendous and will be cherished for long, not just by the history books, but simply because it was what was needed at that moment. There is nothing like a dash of vigour and excitement that sport can bring to disturbed minds and set them straight on the healing process. The second test, on the other hand, played out to be quite an anti-climax. Many expected the Indian team to just steamroll the visitors but the way things panned out, the hosts showed little in terms of intent to do just that in whatever time they were afforded by the north Indian weather. The English on their part seemed content that they didn't lose the series 2-0.

This, the issue of hosting the last Test, brings the Board into the frame once again. Dilip Vengsarkar is known to write some prickly columns and this one did pinch IS Bindra a lot. Usually, the right to host matches in this country is allotted on a rotation basis and that has been the norm for many years. Now, due to the unforeseen circumstances, Mohali got to host a second Test in one season, when fittingly it was the turn of Kolkata. Now when did Eden Gardens last host a Test match? That may need some time to recall, but the underlying point is that Jagmohan Dalmiya being the CAB president goes a long way against an international cricket match being held in that part of the country.

When the same was pointed out by Vengsarkar, the BCCI vice-president Bindra replied that the English team needed a quick exit from India in case of something untoward happening. But then wouldn't have Delhi been a better option in that case? Well, the answer is something like this. Mohali, where Mr. Bindra is president, is undergoing major re-construction this off-season and hosting an international match assures a hefty grant from the Board!

Summing up the cricket, Gautam Gambhir has had a fantastic year and this is only accentuated by the healthy runs column. He attributes this success to coach Gary Kirsten and it is hard not to see why. After all, a left handed opening batsman ought to have benefited the most with another left handed opener becoming the coach and in his times Kirsten was no less than a legend with the willow for the Proteas. Gambhir's partnership with Sehwag has paid rich dividends for India and it was a culmination of a successful twelve months in Chennai, where one just blasted away the English, setting up an Indian win, while the other hung around. And again, Gambhir came up with commendable efforts in the second Test to prove himself the most improved played of the year.

For most definitely the Indian 'player of the year' title has to go to Zaheer Khan. When was the last time that pace, rather than spin, was India's main attacking weapon and that too at home. His control over swing and the mastery on reverse swing have made him probably the most lethal fast bowler in the world today. Add to it that he is helping mentor Ishant Sharma and there is no doubting his contribution to Indian cricket's cause these last twelve months.

A contender himself, Virender Sehwag is invaluable to the team for the kind of effect he produced in the first Test. One is a strong believer that had the opener not lost his form for such a long period under Rahul Dravid's captaincy, then the latter's reign would have yielded much different results. Ganguly first, and now Dhoni is lucky enough that he is in pristine form and that he is able to put India in the commanding positions they suddenly find themselves in. They never know what to expect of him, except maybe a touch of inconsistency given his escapades. But then that's a small price to pay for having a class player in the side.

Two men who have given Indian cricket the consistency over the years are Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. It is said that Tendulkar silenced a whole lot of critics after his match winning ton in the first Test, but is that really possible? Won't the same critics say that he has just played quite a small number of such innings and raise more questions in time? That is the reason why the knock was important only in terms of satisfying the player himself, for he was finally able to bury the ghost of '99. It is important to great players that they do so otherwise it is only sad to see destiny unfulfilled. And lest we forget, only a Sachin ton could have made a difference to the people suffering all over the country!

Dravid's ton in the second innings was equally important to the player. Many believed that the second innings of the first Test ought to have proved that he is no more the player he was and it is indeed time for him to go. One begs to argue differently here, for a high pressure chase is never a platform for any batsman to come roaring back to form. For that is precisely the moment when the dark cloud cover of doubts grow evermore in his already low on confidence mind! What was however important that Dravid play alteast one innings of note in the series, which is what he, did at Mohali. Although a slow innings, it re-assured him that he still has the ability to clear the cobwebs off his mind and contribute to the Indian middle order, which needs him for atleast another year or so.

For England, ever since Kevin Pieterson became captain, it has only been about winning the Ashes. Losing in India wouldn't really matter if they reclaim 'the urn' next year. And so, that is what they are trying to do, by slowly getting into rhythm, hitting their peak form just in time for the 2009 summer. They still have about six months to go and a couple of things need to top their priority list.

The batting seems quite settled, especially at home and if Michael Vaughan finds form one last time, it will only be an icing to the cake. Flintoff is indeed the skipper's right hand man and the one player he relies on to deliver. But he is prone to injuries and so, must be protected so as to play the big series next year. He was the key man in 2005 and they need him more than anyone else. Having said that, Steve Harmison is really a struggling bowler now and though Chris Broad seems a fine prospect, it is time they take another look at Simon Jones, especially with the Windies tour up next. Just one more point, and that is about Monty Panesar. Pieterson needs to find him a purpose in his plans and fast. Last time, the young spinner had put on quite a show unlike his shadow that made an appearance this time.

Last but not the least, Yuvraj Singh made his long due return to the Test fold. Two matches later, he is termed a permanent fixture but so it was the last time he was in the team. Thus, inspite of the signs being much more favourable this time, it will only be reasonable to wait and watch when it comes to Yuvi and Tests.

At the same time, he is indeed part of a new era in Indian cricket. Such is the good feel about the team that this feels like something never been experienced before in Indian cricket. No, one is not talking about the success but the constant pegging at being the number one team in the world. Skipper MS Dhoni has indeed got something going here!

 
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