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By Sunil Gavaskar
Ever since India was ranked the number one Test cricket team by the ICC rankings system, there has been a trend especially by those from the old powers to try and make fun of the rankings and question India’s place at the top. The simple fact is that, the rankings system was approved by all the Boards after due consideration and accepted as such, so now for some people in those countries to ridicule it makes little sense.
Rankings are not an individual hobby which can be argued for or against, but one that has a method to it. You may not agree with the method and suggest a better one, but till that time it is wiser to accept it for what it is. The method applies to all teams and is not subjective and therefore the objections to India’s ranking does seem petty at best. When other teams were ranked at the top there was not much comment against the method, so why should there be any comment now is beyond the understanding of most right thinking cricket lovers.
Sure, India has yet to beat South Africa and Australia in their countries, but the last two tours of those countries, India has held its own and but for a bit of bad luck may have even won there. They have the opportunity to do so in the next couple of months when they tour South Africa and next year around the same time they go to Australia and have the chance to win there too. Of course, there is every possibility that India’s team may have a totally different look about it with some younger players replacing some of the more established and revered names in Indian cricket, but that remains to be seen.
The manner in which India saved the first Test against New Zealand in Ahmedabad showed just why they are so high in the rankings. India were down in the dumps with five of their top batsmen out for only 15 runs and with a lead of 28 they were only 43 runs ahead at that stage. There was a recovery of sorts from a partnership between V.V.S. Laxman and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni that seemed to stabilize the innings, but India were not yet out of danger when Harbhajan Singh joined VVS Laxman.
Harbhajan had got his highest score in Test cricket in the first innings, so when he came in to bat he was pretty confident. However, he has been known to be a little too cheeky in his shots and can get out just when he is looking good. That was the worry that he would go for an ambitious shot too soon especially after the confidence of his first innings knock, but that didn’t happen as Laxman shepherded him to the close of play. New Zealand were in with a chance if they could dismiss India before lunch, for that would get them ample overs and time to get the runs and they wouldn’t be chasing too many either. It is here that Harbhajan showed how improved his temperament as a batsman is. Yes, he did try the reverse sweep but having got away with it as well as the shot where he danced down the pitch to Chris Martin, the destroyer of the Indian innings till then, he proceeded to play such a controlled innings that it was a surprise when he was eventually out.
Laxman, of course was the crisis saver again and Harbhajan was quick to admit that it was the calm of Laxman at the other end that helped him to keep cool too.
By saving what seemed like a lost game, India showed that they have enormous self-belief and don’t capitulate easily anymore. They played like the number one team that they are and by drawing the game lived to fight another day. Whether they will be able to go on to win the series and increase the points difference between them and the South Africans who are number two in the rankings will be seen soon enough.
The South Africans are playing Pakistan in a Test series in the United Arab Emirates and so have the chance to narrow the gap and if they do that, then they would fancy their chances of toppling India from the number one spot if they beat them at home. That series thus will in effect, be the fight for the number one ranking in Test cricket and should bring in plenty of crowds and interest. The Australia v England series will also help those teams to climb up the rankings ladder as also the Sri Lanka v West Indies series.
There is thus plenty of cricket ahead for the cricket lovers and between well matched teams too and if the pitches are good then there should be interesting cricket. When each Test matters, then the series is always a closely fought one with neither team asking for nor yielding any quarter.
Of course playing at home is a big advantage, for not only are teams familiar with the pitches and conditions, but home teams also get the chance to spend quality time with their families in between Tests and that can take away a great deal of the pressure that teams feel when they are overseas. India thus must capitalize on that in the series against the Kiwis, for when they go to South Africa next month they will be the outsiders in more sense than one.