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By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
As far as dynasties go on to last, that was a short and sweet stay at the top for India. A quickie of sorts; a seat-warmer variety; a caretaker kind; in local parlance, a Gulzari Lal Nanda reign - in the record books for sure, but not long enough to leave any sort of impact. India, at the top of the heap in test cricket, wore a perpetual apologist's face for however long they lasted - not entirely sure how they found themselves up there and wary and worried that they would had to vacate the seat once the legitimate owner of the chair walked in through the door. That remains the central problem with these rankings, that they rely more on the weaknesses of the others than on the strengths of oneself. Aside from the patriotic squawkers in the commentary and the press boxes, the mention of 'India' and 'No.1' in the test arena hadn't been without a snicker or the roll of the eyes. And practically every series started with that cliffhanger question, whether this would be the one where India would step down from the throne and hand over the crown, and through some miraculous maneuvers in the last second managed to hang on to the title till the next bout. All along it was fairly apparent that it was never a question of 'whether' but just 'when'. Truth be told, they deserved to be in the top league (just not on the top) with their string of strong performances home and abroad in the past few years, and coupled with the end of Australian hegemony, suddenly finding themselves as the team to beat was just a happy coincidence. The press conferences of the opposing captains were always an interesting watch at the beginning of the series. Whenever the inevitable question of the legitimacy of India's title came up, there used to be an obvious bewildered exasperation in the replies, unable to explain how the team was being hailed as the best without any menacing force in its arsenal, and unwilling to subscribe to the pure accounting accreditation. Well, after this series, they no longer have to frown and scowl, they no longer have to be bad liars and good diplomats. Normal service has resumed, and all is well with the world now.
There have been bad series before for India, but never this bad, and more so, when the teams are so evenly matched man to man (at least, on paper). Granted a couple of injuries to the key people upset the balance of the team, but that only goes to show/confirm that India's good days rode almost exclusively on the backs of Sehwag's bat and Zaheer's ball. In failures as these, it is impossible to say what went wrong or where it all unravelled. There is no way to analyze the low points without having a few spikes to put them up against, and apart from Dravid's monumental, heruculean, and single handed determination, grit, tenacity, patience and temperament, the graph of the Indian performance just flatlined for the entire series. Too much cricket (before the start of this important series), too little cricket (to warm up to the local conditions), too large a gap (for the rested players), too little preparation (for virtually everybody, except the perennial workhorse Dravid) - the reasons oscillate between the extremes and the result conform. Batting has been the main reason why India climbed to the top with a solid opening partnership, a balanced middle-order and a swashbuckling tail that came in handy once in a while, and when that didn't turn up for the show, the results, however dismal, had to be expected. When a team that has prided itself with the most prized batting line up in the recent memory had its wellspring of good form shut off, the onus fell entirely on the (always) weaker bowling unit, which never had the luxury of pace, and of late, nor the guile of spin. Murphy could not have had a better illustration, when it came to explaining how bad things could go wrong, when they indeed decide to pack up and head south.
Or, wishfully thinking, this could all be a one-off post-triumph blip that usually afflicts World Cup Champions (hate to keep repeating, save Australia), that one needn't take to heart and lose sleep over. Or, realistically speaking, this could be the first warning shot for how the future would look like, once the middle order starts drawing its retirement benefits, unless the Board wakes up, shrugs off its complacency, identifies and quarantines a group of 6-10 rock solid defensive players, bar them from ever participating in the IPL (while rewarding them commensurately for their sacrifice) and make them concentrate entirely on the longer form of the game. The cupboard lays bare as far as future test batsmen are concerned, and if the recent drought for a 300 score that spanned over a couple of series is any indication, the current pool of ODI warriors and IPL plunderers don't even stand a chance of surviving an entire session, leave alone an entire day, against probing bowling on sporting surfaces. It has taken almost a decade's worth of close calls and hard chances, even with its greatest weapons at the disposal, before India was finally adjudged No.1 and now after their era, the waiting would stretch well past that, if the powers that be do not foresee the onset of the drought.
And as far as England in concerned, this win only confirmed what their Ashes win in Australia hinted at, that with solid batting, lethal bowling and sharp fielding, the game has found a new No.1, and this time, with the right bonafides.