On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

Time for some champagne

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It is time for some elaborate and well-earned celebrations. India at this point of time is the number 1 Test team in the world and it is a nice place to sit and reflect on things before moving on to the bigger challenge of consolidating this position.

The fourteen players who were in the squad against Sri Lanka at the Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai were the last ones who came to my mind as my memory went back to listening about India playing abroad in the late seventies and early eighties. It went back to days when Sunil Gavaskar used to walk to the field and display character while playing in an era that had a battery of great fast bowlers. It also went back to Kapil Dev, Vishwanath, Jimmy Amarnath, Vengsarkar and to all those people who paved the way from the time when India were just considered pushovers in world cricket to this day.

Of course it went to our fabulous spinners; the unmatched Bishen Singh Bedi and the quartet that had Eknath Solker, near the bat, as a part of their hunting pack. Sandeep Patil hitting a spectacular 174 in the Adelaide Test after having been hit on the head by Len Pascoe on his ear in the Sydney Test of the 1980-81 series came to my mind. The list is long in this 77-year-old history and each step has meant something.

Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble can be clubbed with the squad of fourteen as they are an integral part of recent successes. Ganguly displayed steely resolve after his comeback and Kumble showed what a tremendous leader he is. The graph can be plotted from end-2007 when India defeated Pakistan 1-0 at home with the last Test finishing on December 12.

This was after a hectic ODI season and commercial greed ensured that India went to Australia without much of a rest or a decent conditioning camp and no time to acclimatise apart from one game that was washed out. Melbourne was the wicket that would have suited India the best and the bowlers did well to keep Australia below 350.

Two tour games may have shown form and adjustment factor. Sehwag may have played from the start and Yuvraj could have warmed the bench; our experts did not get it but Ian Chappell was right when he said that Sehwag may give just about 50 but his attack puts the train in motion. An attacking opener at the top would have put the bowlers on the defensive and the middle order could then have taken things forward. Yuvraj had made runs in India and so the entire furniture was rearranged to accommodate him. India lost the first Test by 337 runs and Ponting said he hadn’t expected such an easy win.

Then it was time for the back-to-back Sydney Test in the New Year and along with it a chance for Australia to match its previous highest winning streak of 16 Test matches on the trot. Never mind the washed out preparation game as that bit happened in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. In hindsight, Sydney was very unlucky for Andrew Symonds in the long-run and it was lucky in the long-run for India.

On the match days, though, every bit of luck went Australia’s way beginning with the toss. “We’re going to bat today, mate,” said Ponting. “The wicket looks pretty good, a bit of moisture this morning. We played well in Melbourne but that’s all behind us now. We created momentum and hope to do the same. It was as good Test cricket as we’ve played in a long time.”

Anil Kumble looked calm and confident. “There’ll be early juice in the wicket; I’m looking forward to a couple of early wickets,” Cricinfo’s commentary said. The attack was RP Singh, Ishant Sharma, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble. RP got both the openers cheaply and then Ponting and Hussey consolidated but from 119 for 2 in 29.4 overs Australia slumped to 134 for 6 in 34.5 overs. Brad Hogg joined Symonds, who had seven runs from 17 balls, and the counterattack started.

At the end of 46 overs Hogg was 35 and Symonds 29 when Ishant came in to bowl the 47th over with Australia on 191. At 193 for 6 on the fourth ball of Ishant Sharma, Symonds got a massive edge and looked back as Dhoni pouched it. Umpire Steve Bucknor was stone faced as Symonds looked at him. It was a giveaway. Australia ended up with 463 and Symonds added 132 more to his score of 30 when he had got that big let-off. On top of that the drama of a ‘reported incident’ at the end of the third day’s play meant that news agencies had a field day. That continued for a while.

To cut the long story short, Australia went on to win the game as India failed to survive over two and a half sessions on the last day and the team trailed 2-0 in the four Test series with the next match to be played in the Australian den at Perth.

Sehwag and Irfan Pathan got in the playing eleven and Harbhajan was out in the cold awaiting the decision of a judge after the acrimonious Sydney Test. Australia crumbled despite talks of a four-pronged pace attack and the two replacements justified their inclusion for India. That bit was Kumble’s leadership and India haven’t looked back since and beaten Australia 2-0 at home and won a series against England at home. There has been a 1-1 draw against South Africa at home. The only blip has been a 2-1 loss in Sri Lanka. Symonds has gone fishing or has hit the bar a bit more than the leadership group of the team would have wanted him to. He’s had the support of the captain and the team mates but he has found it hard to justify it.

Gary Kirsten had joined the team in Perth and one can hear about the value that he has added as players have been very vocal about his role even as he has been quiet about it. This year India has dominated and had a series win in New Zealand and now an emphatic 2-0 win against Sri Lanka at home. It is the Test matches that matter but we are just playing two more so the top ranking could be for just a short while; it is worth celebrating nonetheless.

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