The Test team that isn’t

One of the members of the Indian team, to whom I had sent a congratulatory SMS Sunday evening, responded with this: It’s been a long time coming — we’ve dreamed of this and worked towards this all our playing lives; feels good. Now to maintain it.

Therein lies the catch: sometime early next year if not sooner, India will find itself overtaken in the rankings, for no fault of the team’s.

When a Simon Wilde writes that India does not “deserve” to be number one, it’s difficult not to take issue. The team has worked towards this; it has gone from a group labeled the worst travelers in cricket to a side that holds its own even when playing away from home. And it made it to the top of the table thanks to a points system it did not devise — the same points system, incidentally, that saw England being named the number two side in the world even as it was on a hiding to nothing in the Ashes series Down Under.

While Wilde, thus, is easy to dismiss, Jamie Pandaram’s piece in the Sydney Morning Herald is more on the money. Ignore the bit about surveys showing that only seven percent of Indians like Tests — a survey is as good as the sample, and a 500-or-so sample size is no way indicative of the mood of a nation of one billion plus [besides, checked out the crowds that turned up, especially in Kanpur and at the Brabourne?]. Ignore, too, the bit where Pandaram keeps talking of the paucity of home Tests — the larger point is, we are just not playing enough Tests, period.

A Rahul Dravid or VVS Laxman, for instance, will get to play two Tests against Bangladesh in December this year. They were then slated to play three home Tests against South Africa in February — but the FTP cryptically says they will be ‘rescheduled’ — a euphemism for maybe some other year, if at all. Effectively, thus, the Test team will wait till May 2010 before, hold your breath, playing Zimbabwe in two Tests. Then we wait till sometime in November, when we host New Zealand for three Tests, before going to South Africa in December 2010 for three Tests. That is a grand total of 8 Tests over a 12-month span, including a — with all due respect — no-account series against Zimbabwe. In that same span we will play 17 ODIs besides the Asia Cup — and the schedule for India makes plenty of room for the IPL and Champions League.

While Pandaram’s piece gets side-tracked [incidentally, the likes of SMH and Wilde might want to note that as this is written, Australia at home has been outplayed, and is struggling to stave off defeat against a West Indies side currently ranked number 8 — the lowest in its history], Cricinfo nails the main point down:

During the period in which India have only two Tests – against Bangladesh – to maintain a hold on their No. 1 position, South Africa play at least four and Australia eight. A 2-0 win against Bangladesh isn’t likely to give India too many ratings points either, so they could be overtaken depending on how South Africa do against England, and how Australia go against West Indies and Pakistan at home, and in the away series in New Zealand and against Pakistan in England.

”We just go out and play whatever is scheduled,” Gary Kirsten is quoted as saying. A current member of the side put it more pithily: “We’ve dreamed of the number one rating from the time John (Wright) [whose effusion here is, knowing the man, not pro forma but comes from the heart] took over as coach. Seems a pity we finally got there only to lose it by default. Not because we are not good enough, but because we won’t play enough.”

That point about working towards a dream was well taken. Anil Kumble — who has done more than his fair share in pushing the team to the top and who, sadly, retired before the final step was taken — writes of just how much the team wanted this, in his latest column:

Almost two years back we sat down and planned for this day, so you can imagine the feeling among all concerned now that the task has been achieved. Back then, we knew that in the next 18 months or so we would play almost every team in the world, either home or away. We made a conscious effort to sit down and discuss the way to the top. The team goal was simple. We were fifth in the rankings and said to ourselves: “Let’s go out there and win every series from here on, as that is the only route to the top.”

The team has done its bit. As, come to think of it, has the BCCI, by its own lights: Rs 25 lakh per player as reward, there you go, quit cribbing and keep in mind we are able to pay you this money because of all the billions we earn through the IPL and assorted ODIs [seven of them against Australia next year, after seven against the same team this year].

Ask the players, and they’ll tell you they’d rather have more Tests. Ask the fans, and they’ll tell you if the BCCI schedules series against South Africa and Australia, billing them as the games that will settle this argument for good and all, we’ll queue up outside the grounds.

The real pity is that captains beginning with Sourav Ganguly, and coaches starting with John Wright, have worked with focus towards building a competitive Test team. Now we have one — but thanks to the Board, we won’t get to see it play as much as it should.

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21 thoughts on “The Test team that isn’t

  1. Wonder if we can leave aside ICC and BCCI’s gambits and savor the moment team. It’s difficult for the English and Australians and South Africans to gnaw that. That should add to the flavor that we savor, rather than lead us to swaying away from it.

    More reason to cherish something that may be taken away soon.

  2. 18 Tests in 2011 – away in England, South Africa, West Indies and Australia. Home to the West Indies and prolly New Zealand. Plus the WC. Talk of lop sided calenders.

    Hopefully the next avatar of the FTP provides for a greater balance on the number of tests played every year and between home and away.

    But given that this is the ICC, hope is futile.

    Cheers,

  3. Prem –

    “Let’s go out there and win every series from here on, as that is the only route to the top.”

    Comments from the Indian players, Kumble/Ganguly et al puts in perspective RD’s defensive approach in that ’07 Eng series where we sacrificed a potential win in the 3rd test to win the series or MSD’s ultra defensive tactics against the Aus in Nagpur last year etc etc. IMO, the relatively slower approach post Sehwag in the 3rd SL test also falls into this category of locking down the series first and say, flamboyance next. Bottom line? This is another variety of ruthlessness, different from the Aussies, but the drive to the top by ensuring series wins after series wins. Now that they have achieved their goal, reputation will follow.

    • Can we say the basic difference being that the Aussies wanted to win every test match they played where as India just wanted to win the series?

      Isn’t that the diffference?

      I must add that post, McGrath, Warne, Gilly, I haven’t found that kinda ruthlessness in the Oz team.

      Cheers
      PG

      • Good point Prabu. I agree. It would be interesting to compare the Aus approach under Mark Taylor when they were assuming the mantle of the best side in the world after the West Indies. I have a feeling they were more keen on series win rather than winning everything, but need to dig up some facts to determine that.

        • Saum

          The Aus team led by Mark Taylor always suffered from the dead rubber syndrome, i.e. win the series and lose the last test which has nothing riding on it. Losing to Eng at Oval in 97 chasing 120 odd, losing to South Africa in South Africa again in 97 are just two examples at the top of my head. I know they used to lose tests in Aus as well – Pakistan is for sure, and possibly Eng as well.

          What the team under Waugh did was change that perception – they wanted to win everything. That was carried forward by Ponting and he was quite successful at it as long as he had Mcgrath/Warne.

          Hence the Aus team did the 16 consecutive test wins twice within the span of a few years. 99-01 and from 05-07.

  4. Prem,

    Ashish Ray on Sky Sports opined that BCCI might just schedule a test series with SA along with the ODI series.
    I don’t think that will ever happen, however, what is your take on that?
    Cheers
    PG

  5. I think we make too much of this gap in domestic calendar. There are so many ways of interpreting this whole FTP thing that it is actually a lotta fun – Wilde can write a bucketful of negative pieces on each country if he so chooses.

    For example, Australia is not playing anybody else at home after WI in 2010. So their next domestic fixture is also technically in 2011 after the World Cup. So?

  6. serious withdrawal symptoms looms. A near-drought of tests for a year.. and with that, assume that the intense cricket blogging that we’ve seen form you in recent days will also become more sporadic. Sad, sad.

    • Yes to the first, not necessarily yes to the second 🙂 Am hoping once I settle down in Bangalore to reverting to more normal blogging — cricket, plus other things.

  7. Yes. It’s quite sad really. And that too when we know that the batting line-up will go into “rebuilding” mode in a couple of years. This is the team that can go out and dominate.

    I’m just hoping that from end-2010 we do follow FTP. In one year, we have away test tours in SA, WI, Eng & Aus. With a world-cup somewhere in between.

    After that glorious year, I expect SRT, Dravid, etc. will consider retirement and young guys can ease in with many home series’.

    Keeping my fingers crossed and hoping to take a year’s vacation 🙂

    • Yeah, 2011 should be a banner year. But your point is the one that I had at the back of my mind, too — who knows where this team will be then? If we are lucky, everyone will be in prime form, and ready and eager. Then again, the older ones could have faded out, the younger ones don’t have opportunities to test their skills, and it could all implode. A function of the cricket fan: pessimism 🙂

      • Spot on prem! We would never know how good our elder statesmen would be in 2011. The young ones wont have enough experience under the belt to dominate. I have a sinking feeling this number 1 rating could be a well deserved final hurrah for our terrific batsmen.

    • I hope SRT, RD and Laxman play in the county season next year. It will help them keep away any rustiness in their technique and familiarize with English conditions. The IPL 2010 is likely to be held around the same time so there will be great pressure, at least on SRT, to choose IPL over county. I hope all three choose to play county instead of the meaningless (at least in their case) IPL and then play the Ranji season next year.

      • LOL
        Tea_Cup, you must be joking. County over IPL ! Do you think that is every going to happen?

        Though I wish it did, atleast I will get an opportunity to catch these players live on field.

        Cheers
        PG

        • Its funny Tea Cup is asking players like SRT, RD (Who are Icon players for their respective IPL teams) to choose to play County cricket instead of IPL. Put yourselves in the players’ shoes, and you will play the IPL too. They have a commitment to their IPL team because they are their team’s banner players and are paid as such. It always boggles my mind when a fan expects the professional players to be saints and expects them not to be “swayed by money” but instead display this “higher moral” character and do what’s good for the game etc. The players have a short shelf life and HAVE to cash in when they can. Plain and Simple. This is not to say they are just in it for the money, Far from it. They thrive for competition but, they have to make sure they, and their families, are taken care of. However, any time, a player says, “Hey, we have to take care of ourselves and make sure we have enough in the bank”, all the fans, writers and especially Cricinfo, crucify them for being selfish.

          We have read many stories about former players and athletes who are suffering in their old age because they don’t have money. BTW, BCCI takes care of its ex-players a lot better than any other sports institution/board in India. Fans care about the player till retires/ or is dropped. Then, they move on to fascinate themselves with the new players. But the player still has to make ends meet and ensure his family is doing okay. Fans – especially Cricket fans with this high and mighty attitude towards money – sicken me.

          • Wow…you sure are a genius in putting words into other people’s mouth. When I said I hope SRT, RD and Laxman play the county season instead of the “meaningless” IPL, it was only because the above said players do not play the international T20 games for India and so it has no meaning for them. Nowhere did I bring in “higher moral character” or “swayed by money”. The topic of discussion here is about the long gap between test matches for India and how it would affect the senior players and my hope was that by playing the longer version of the game in the county circuit and the Ranji season in India they could prevent any rustiness from developing into their game. I really don’t know where you got all that from my comment.

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