The Indian cricket team has just achieved a victory against Bangladesh in the first ever day-night test match in India. This caps a period of seven consecutive test match wins as also four consecutive ones by an innings, apparently the first team ever to do so. Quite an admirable performance that has in some sense helped overcome the disappointment of bowing out of the World Cup earlier in the year.
For a country that was largely starved of test wins in the past except on dusty bowls at home, this is something to be proud of. Let us put this victory in the right perspective.
Cricket, unlike other sports, has limited global appeal, with only ten countries playing what we term ‘the test match’. Even amongst these elite ten countries, not many have been able to display consistently high quality of cricket. Currently, the competition is narrower still. The top three teams are India, Australia and surprisingly, New Zealand. These three teams have displayed superior level of performance over a long period of time. The next in the hierarchy are England and South Africa.
England, despite their loud claims of outstanding performance, have been very inconsistent, even losing to the West Indies a few months back, a fate that hardly any team has had to suffer in recent times. South Africa is clearly a team on the decline. With their internal problems and the Board in disarray, the future looks less than rosy. However, with strong traditions and vigorously competitive domestic turf, both these countries can bounce back any time.
It is the bottom five – Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, West Indies and Afghanistan – whose performances have fallen short of the levels expected of a top team.
In general, they have exhibited little appetite for competing with the best teams. Quite obviously, victories against these countries are achieved without too much sweat and could even be classified as meaningless. The result has always been a foregone conclusion and the only point of interest is whether the match finishes in three days or four. I don’t intend to discount these victories - a test match win is a test match win. People of my generation were starved of Indian victories which used to be few and far between. Therefore, any victory, even over minnows, must be welcomed. Especially admirable is the ruthlessness with which the Indian team has been winning against the weaker teams in recent times.
It is also quite praiseworthy that India has not resorted to preparing turning tracks to ensure a favorable result. Pitches have been competitive, at times even favouring the pace bowlers and carrying sufficient bounce. Pacers, spinners, batsmen and even fielders have contributed in equal measure to the performance of the team.
At the same time, we should refrain from going overboard, a trait we usually find in abundance amongst Indians. The true test of the team’s performance has to be how it fares against the best teams, especially outside the comfort of home conditions. We had embarked on three critical and defining tours two years back.
I had believed that these three tours would separate the men from the boys and tell us how good we are. From that perspective, there was disappointment and the team fell short of expectations since we had what it takes to win in those conditions. We lost 1-2 to South Africa and 1-4 to England.
We did admirably to defeat Australia for the first time ever in their home conditions, but it was a team which was in complete turmoil post the Sandpaper Gate and played without two of their best batsmen. Highly satisfying nevertheless, to put it across Australia, but the defeats to SA and England were rather disheartening.
We will, of course, soon have an opportunity to overcome the disappointment, when we tour New Zealand, Australia and England over the next two years. Our pursuit for greatness would be defined by winning at least two of the three series. Until those three series have been played, a final judgement must remain suspended.
In the last six years, we have failed to win any major global tournament. With the advent of the T20, the frequency with which these tournaments are held, has gone up. Despite that, our cupboard is bare, with no trophy in sight.
The conclusion is very simple. While we have a very good unit which can compete and hold its own against the best and dominate the weaker ones, we are still not a great team. Enjoy the ruthlessness and the authority the team displays over weaker sides, but wait for a few years to fulfill our dream of a great, world-beating Indian cricket team.