India should soon replace Australia at the top (Comment)

November 10th, 2008 - 7:36 pm ICT by IANS  

There can’t be greater joy than convincingly trouncing Australia in Test cricket, a game they have dominated since the 90s. That India has consistently and emphatically challenged the cricket superpowers, at home and away, manifests that Mahender Singh Dhoni’s conquering legion has the potential, skills and determination to put Indian cricket on a higher pedestal. Over the last two seasons, India has gradually, but steadily, whittled the difference in points in the ICC Test Championship table. As a matter of fact, no team has so often robustly questioned the Aussies’ authority in the five-day game. Obviously, India is the side that should soon replace Australia at the top.

We could attribute this authority to the momentum gained from the epochal 2001 series when Sourav Ganguly’s men returned from the dead to turn the tables upon Steve Waugh’s “Invincibles”. That was a defining moment in Indian cricket, when the hunted turned hunter. Then on, the Indian tiger has persistently mauled the Australian cricket psyche, marked by the exciting 2003-04 series Down Under when India nearly pulled off a series victory at Sydney, and capped by today’s 2-0 triumph at Nagpur.

It is a wonderful change in times that the Aussies prefer a series against India to the Ashes. The money undoubtedly is huge, but the battles on and off the field have been even bigger. It could get spicier in the future as both teams are in transition mode. Australia is struggling for replacements for Shane Warne and Glen McGrath, who shared over 1200 Test wickets between them. India is bound to go through this trough as well, especially with Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly calling time on their international careers.

With Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman likely to follow in their wake sooner or later, India should expectedly stutter in its journey to the summit of Test cricket. It will feel the pangs of their absence when it travels, as the wickets in South Africa and Australia are a lot different, with carry and pace. Besides, the ball swings and seams in English and Kiwi conditions. Obviously, it will take a while before India’s young guns begin to score in such conditions, unless the cash-rich Indian board invests wisely by sending the fringe players on frequent tours, particularly to Australia and South Africa.

Murali Vijay, Subramaniam Badrinath, Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwari, Shikhar Dhawan and Robin Uthappa are exciting players. But how they shape up will have to be seen.

Fortunately, India has good bench strength when it comes to bowling, with a rich crop of fast bowlers and spinners waiting in the wings. Amit Mishra did marvellously well in this series, with a five-wicket haul on debut. No doubt he has the potential to serve Indian cricket well. But to deliver as regularly as Kumble did, more so on wickets away from the sub-continent will be a tough ask on this young leg-spinner. He will do well to keep in mind that Piyush Chawla, a bowler of his own trade, will be breathing down his neck to break back into the national side. There is left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha as well.

Indian cricket may be enjoying good times at the moment and Dhoni may have the midas touch to turn everything into gold, but the path to cricket’s ultimate glory is bound to be fraught with hurdles. (Joseph Hoover is Bangalore-based cricket writer and can be contacted at sports@ians.in)

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