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By Sunil Gavaskar
The rain on the final day of the first Test in New Zealand meant that the Test between South Africa and hosts, New Zealand ended in a draw. England thus retained the number one ranking in Tests cricket and will win the prize from ICC. The ICC rankings are from 1st May to 30th April every year and there is no chance of anybody getting past England in that time. South Africa of course had to win all three Tests to get to the number one ranking, and that in New Zealand would take some doing.
What has been amusing is to see how brown and bereft of grass the pitches in New Zealand are for the Tests, obviously keeping in mind the fast bowling strength of the South Africans. When India get there the pitch cannot be distinguished from the outfield so green is it, but against the pace of the Proteas the Kiwis are not taking any chances. Despite the bareness of the pitch the Kiwi batsmen have not really flourished and have struggled to get runs.
Some in the Kiwi media have invariably been harsh on the Indian batsmen calling them flat track bullies, but when their own batsmen do not get runs on such flat pitches what does that make them? Pussies? Simple fact is Test runs are never easy even when it appears so, for if that were to be the case then there would be many more with thousands of runs than are there in the history of the game so far.
When India were the number one team in the world, thanks mainly to their wins at home there were many who did not give them credit for it, and now that England still retain the number one ranking after a 3-0 loss to Pakistan in the U.A.E, there are some who feel that they too do not deserve to be number one. Maybe, those who are doing the points system for the rankings need to have a relook at the way the points are awarded, so that all those following it are convinced it is correct.
The manner in which talent has levelled out in the cricketing world not many teams win overseas, but are pretty much invincible at home and that is why there is the question mark about them deserving to be number one. When the West Indies team of the 1970s and 80s and the Australian team from 1996 till 2009 was dominating world cricket winning at home as well as away, and by the same convincing manner as at home, there were not many questions asked about their ranking though, while the Windies were crushing all opposition that they played, there was no official ranking system then. Yet there was never the slightest doubt that they were world beaters, just as the Australians were in the past decade and half, and accepted by the cricketing world as such.
The Tests series in Sri Lanka albeit just a two Test series will give England the chance to show that they have learnt from the disaster in United Arab Emirates and can adapt to subcontinent conditions. They will also be aware that even if they do well in Sri Lanka they will only be recognized by their performances in India at the end of this year. It is going to be a big challenge and one that will show how England progress. They bounced back extremely well in the one-day series that came after the Test series loss to Pakistan, and they won that one-day series 4-0 and then followed up with a hard fought 2-1 win in the T20 series too. So they have shown that with a bit of application they can turn the tide around. Having said, that one has to keep in mind that one-day games are played with a white ball, while Test matches are played with a red ball and we all know that the red ball moves and spins a lot more than the white ball does.
The new regulations that came up in October allow two new balls to be used in limited overs cricket, but that has not pleased Brett Lee, who feels that that since the ball does not get old enough it does not allow the reverse swing to happen.
What a change in the game!! Gone are the days when fast bowlers looked forward to getting the shiny new ball in their hands so that it could swing and they could get more bounce off the surface. Now they cannot swing the new ball and want it to get old so that they can get the ball to contrast swing.
Cricket certainly has changed if not in the actual contest between bat and ball, but in the attitude and approach of those playing today. It is a much more athletic sport and there is much more attacking cricket seen. The mental aspect still remains the same though and only those, who can keep their wits about them, even in tough situations, will be successful.