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By Suresh Menon
When Ravi Shastri said on television that the recent Test series set up the IPL very nicely, it became obvious that in his mind he was clear about which came first, the chicken or the egg. You don't need to be an apologist for Test cricket or an exclusive fan of the IPL to understand how ridiculous that comment was. It was rather like saying that Daniel Day Lewis's Oscar-winning performance as Lincoln was good preparation for the lemon-and-spoon race at the next PTA meeting. You can't mix oranges and apples – except apparently in commentary boxes.
Was Sachin Tendulkar bidding goodbye to the Feroze Shah Kotla or Delhi or India or cricket itself at the end of the match when India completed their 4-0 drubbing of Australia? This is the first time the word 'drubbing' is being used thus. India have been the drubbee often; now it is Australia's turn, for the first time in over four decades. Despite Mahendra Singh Dhoni insisting that this was no revenge, just the story of a team doing well, it is difficult to treat a scoreline like that so dispassionately.
Harbhajan Singh alone predicted before the start that India would win 4-0; adding that they would “teach Australia how to play.” Ironically, there were similarities between the series in Australia where India were drubbed 4-0 and this one. Both losing teams had their share of injuries, both teams had to play without their captains in the final Test, both times found the marginal decisions going against them. There was intrigue too, in the finest traditions of the subcontinent, when four players were dropped in what has, inevitably, come to be known as 'homeworkgate'. There is nothing like defeat to tear a team apart. Only winners talk of team spirit.
India will be asking two questions: Is this the end for Tendulkar? And, how well will they translate their new-found form and confidence in the next Test series which is in South Africa in November? Reading the Tendulkar tea leaves is a national pastime, and much has been read into his every act, and indeed the acts of those around him. Someone discovered that Sachin's brother (and first guru) Ajit was staying in the same hotel as the Indian team in Delhi. This was immediately interpreted as a sign that Tendulkar was about to bid goodbye since Ajit never watched his brother play and this must therefore be a special occasion.
Others ask if Tendulkar needs to dilute his legacy by taking on Dale Steyn, Mornie Morkel and Vernon Philander some months after his 40th birthday. In November, Tendulkar is set to celebrate 25 years of Test cricket – but will it be worth all that trouble given that he has been adequate at best in recent series played at home?
On the other hand, with the Kohlis and Pujaras and Dhawans and Vijays coming on so well, perhaps the pressure on Tendulkar will be reduced while his experience in the dressing room among a team of youngsters would be invaluable.
Great players do not often know when to quit. If they are doing well, they don't see the point of it. If they are doing badly, they are convinced the next big performance is just around the corner.
But while India celebrate, these two questions will not go away. And as we approach South Africa, a few more will be added: will the bowlers be able to take twenty wickets in a match? Will the opening batsmen provide the sort of platform they did against Australia, with even the makeshift pair of Vijay and Pujara succeeding? And many more.
India have never won four Tests in a series before and to do that against Australia – whatever the lack of experience in that team – is incredible. For the moment, celebration is in the air, and it is well deserved. Skipper Dhoni has been under pressure for over a year now and has come through, his stunning double century in tin Chennai putting the Indian stamp of authority right at the start of the series.
A new India is taking shape. And that is thrilling.