From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.52 :: Dec. 26, 2009

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YEAR-END SPECIAL / CRICKET/INDIA IN TESTS

On top of the world

It was at the Brabourne Stadium of the CCI, which houses the BCCI headquarters, that India overwhelmed Sri Lanka by an innings and 24 runs to overtake South Africa as the No. 1 team in the world. The effort marked a significant step for Team India. By S. Dinakar.

PTI

The Indian team after beating Sri Lanka 2-0 in the 3-Test series. India now ranks No. 1 in the world.

India will finish the year 2009 as the top-ranked Test team in the world. Being the No. 1 team can be a heady experience but the feat also brings with it loads of responsibility.

While India will have to continue playing hard, consistent and winning cricket, the administrators need to ensure that the side plays enough Tests to give itself a fair chance of retaining the top slot.

Test cricket needs to be in the forefront. This is easier said in the age of megabucks when the temptation to cramp the schedule with the lucrative shorter forms of the game can prove irresistible.

Sadly, India figured in just six Tests in 2009 and might — after the BCCI managed to squeeze in two Tests against the visiting South Africans — just exceed this figure in 2010.

There is a growing belief that Test cricket is being short-changed in a country that has, paradoxically, reached the summit in the most demanding form of the game played over five days under possibly different conditions.

Giants Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid want India to play more Tests. They comprehend the sweat and sacrifice needed to conquer the Test peak. The administrators will have to display foresight and vision.

It was at the Brabourne Stadium of the CCI, which houses the BCCI headquarters, that India overwhelmed Sri Lanka by an innings and 24 runs to overtake South Africa. The effort marked a significant step for Team India.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men achieved the feat but the triumph in Mumbai was the culmination of efforts over the past nine years under various captains; Sourav Ganguly, who began the process, instilled the side with immense belief.

India’s strong batting line-up put runs on the board and the coming together of a potent pace attack to complement the spinners opened the path to victories away from the sub-continent.

On foreign soil, India has been able to adapt better. A drawn series in Australia, Test series wins in England and the West Indies — both under the under-rated captaincy of Dravid — and the first Test win on the South African soil were monumental efforts during the period.

While India’s performances need to be acknowledged, there is a growing belief that pitches over the world have flattened out. There are few green-tops around and a lot of the surfaces hardly deteriorate, even on the final day. On placid tracks and against bowlers over-exposed to the shorter forms of the game, batting has become less demanding.

Indeed, in one of the most outspoken conversations of the year, Sri Lanka’s off-spinning wizard Muttiah Muralitharan said the television companies and the administrators were pressurising the curators to prepare batsman-friendly tracks. “They want the surface to play good even on the final session of the last day. The game is already loaded in favour of the batsmen. Now things have become harder for the bowlers,” world’s most successful bowler agonised.

K. R. DEEPAK

Gautam Gambhir was the outstanding Indian batsman of the year with 727 runs in five Tests at 90.87 with four hundreds. The left-hander added solidity to his game without compromising on flair.

While it would be hard to take the credit away from the batsmen, the mountain of runs scored by some of the present-day batsmen and the ridiculous ease with which centuries are being notched up these days would have to be measured against the nature of the wickets and the quality of the attacks. There has been a serious decline in the pace bowling stock; precision has been a missing element. The fast bowlers are seldom going flat out either. They seem to be saving themselves from injuries.

In 2009, India defeated New Zealand 1-0 in New Zealand. The three-Test series was played on surprisingly flat decks — the Kiwis seemed apprehensive of the Indian pace attack — and India’s ten-wicket victory in the first Test proved decisive.

Harbhajan Singh’s six for 63 in the second innings closed out an Indian win. The off-spinner, taking over as spin spearhead following the departure of Anil Kumble, claimed 29 wickets in the year at 30.17.

For most part, his bowling lacked consistency; he was impressive in some spells, ordinary in a few others. The fact that he had only one five-wicket innings haul in the year indicated there was room for improvement.

Zaheer Khan — 23 wickets at 33.26 — was India’s best bowler of the year. He swung and seamed the ball, was aggressive, and employed the short-pitched ball to good effect. He was impressive from both over and round the wicket and returned two five-wicket innings hauls during the year.

The promising Ishant Sharma went off the boil. The lanky paceman’s bowling elbow was opening out and his wrist position was no longer straight. Worse, his confidence was in his boots.

Santhakumaran Sreesanth made a triumphant comeback. He swung the ball away, got it to dart back and his five for 75 in the Sri Lankan first innings in Kanpur paved the way for an Indian win. Crucially, he reined in his emotions without losing the attacking streak in his bowling.

Young spinners, Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha have some distance to travel.

Despite big scores by the Indian batsmen, the bowling performances have to come up for discussion first due to the placid nature of the surfaces. Eventually, it is the bowlers who win matches.

It was a glorious six Tests for Indian batting in a year the side defeated New Zealand 1-0 and Sri Lanka 2-0. Gautam Gambhir was the outstanding Indian batsman of the year with 727 runs in five Tests at 90.87 with four hundreds. The left-hander added solidity to his game without compromising on flair.

And he batted for the team. When India followed on 314 runs behind in the Napier Test, Gambhir, concentrating hard, consumed 436 balls for his 137 to orchestrate a draw.

The southpaw is in the midst of a dream run but we would have to refrain from comparisons, particularly between different eras. Batting in the pre-helmet days, against those big fast men and on green or hard pitches offering movement and bounce, was a different proposition. Forget scoring runs briskly, even survival was tough.

The Gambhir-Sehwag opening-wicket association powered India to winning starts against Sri Lanka at home. Sehwag, his bat speed, hand-eye coordination, and the ability to create intact, whipped up the batting display of the year — an extraordinary 293 against Sri Lanka in Mumbai. The intrepid opener made 631 runs at 70.11.

Rahul Dravid was a picture of technique and composure at the No. 3 slot. When the side was reeling at 32 for four on the opening session of the Ahmedabad Test, he constructed a masterpiece under duress — an innings of 177. It was the first Test of the series and the Sri Lankans were pegged back after they had made deep inroads.

Dravid notched up 747 runs in six Tests at 83.00 with two hundreds. This was a year when he went past the 11,000-run mark in Tests.

K. R. DEEPAK

Zaheer Khan was the pick of the Indian bowlers in 2009.

And Sachin Tendulkar completed 20 momentous years in international cricket. He still bats like a champion, is hungry for runs and success. The maestro made 541 runs in six Tests at 55.83.

V.V.S. Laxman continued scoring runs with much grace and charm, even in crisis situations. There is a flow to his batting that compels attention. And Yuvraj Singh is gradually finding his feet in the Test arena.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, an evolving captain in Tests, made two hundreds of typical power and bustle against Sri Lanka. India and Dhoni took significant strides in 2009.



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