From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.32 :: NO.36 :: Sep. 05, 2009
On top... South Africa benefitted from Australia’s descent to head the ICC Test rankings.
Cricket awaits its next powerhouse. West Indies and Australia have dominated the game for 33 years and now the field is open. Australia’s toppling has been popular yet their supremacy was healthy because it promoted attacking cricket.
By and large Australians have plenty of “get up and go” and it shows in their sport. True to their temperament, the Aussies attacked with bat and ball.
Cricket has been lucky with its champion teams. Conveniently, they were not as dominant in the one-day arena. Along the way, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan were able to win World Cups, thereby making an important popular and psychological breakthrough.
Not so long ago stalemates were commonplace in Test cricket. Entire books were written to explain that pointless draws fitted in with Indian philosophy and English history. Unfortunately spectators lacked the wisdom of the ancient and tended to expect more from their game than witless bowling and plodding batting. Crowds demanded runs and results for their money. All the more reason to praise the antipodean aggression. All the more reason to relish the dash of the modern game.
Now Test cricket itself sits at the mercy of any nation with the required credentials. South Africa occupies top place in the rankings, but it’s a close run thing and Sri Lanka and India are snapping at its heels. And Australia’s Ashes rival is still barking.
India has become more confident, ambitious and organised. No longer are occasional triumphs enough, nor is the country prepared to depend upon talent and affection for the game. Domestic cricket is better funded, grounds are improving, wages are higher and the game is open to all comers. Fitness and pace bowling have been emphasised, a combination that has previously held the team back. Under Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India is poised to take first place in the rankings, a distinction it has never previously attained.
Of these, India, South Africa and England are the likeliest to take over at the top. The Sri Lankans are adept at living on their wits. Intelligence, originality and imagination are the hallmarks of their cricket. But they are a relatively small cricketing nation and will be hard-pressed to retain their standing.
India and South Africa have advanced in step with the nations at large. India has become more confident, ambitious and organised. No longer are occasional triumphs enough, nor is the country prepared to depend upon talent and affection for the game. Domestic cricket is better funded, grounds are improving, wages are higher and the game is open to all comers. Fitness and pace bowling have been emphasised, a combination that has previously held the team back. Under Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India is poised to take first place in the rankings, a distinction it has never previously attained.
Despite its current eminence, South Africa is not as far down the democratic path as India. Strides have been taken towards the new order but luck has also played its part. For now both the old and new worlds are supplying gifted players. It was glorious to watch A. B. De Villiers and J. P. Duminy forging proud partnerships and Graeme Smith and Makhaya Ntini working so well together.
However, success that relies on a handful of individuals is built on sand. South African cricket has a long way to go before the entire population is at cricket’s disposal.
England is the dark horse. Not that the old country is any better at producing players than previously. But history has provided strong sources of talent in the form of settler communities from countries with rich cricketing traditions. Add a few sons of past players and a sturdy team emerges. Before long the side will consist almost entirely of African and sub-continental settlers and filial. It’s not a bad thing. Diversity has much to commend it. But it will camouflage the weak points.
Which nation will rule in 10 years? India and England can dominate. But it’s easy to rise and hard to stay. West Indies and Australia remained focussed for decades. Now the newcomers must show the same unwavering determination. The thought is father to the deed.
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