The manner in which Team India demolished the Sri Lankan challenge in the just concluded Test series and thereby surged to the pinnacle of the ICC Test Cricket rankings is truly remarkable. The Lankans were at full strength and genuinely harboured hopes of recording their first ever Test victory in India, if not a Series win. As it turned out, except for in the first Test, when they crossed 700 runs, Sri Lanka never fulfilled expectations. Magnificent batting, mainly by Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakratne Dilshan and also in patches by Thilan Samaraweera, Prasanna Jayawardene, and skipper Kumar Sangakarra, was not supported by their bowling at all.
Muthiah Muralidharan has finally run out of steam after a long and outstanding career in which he has taken almost 800 Test wickets. He struggled to trouble maestros like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag, while Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni played him superbly too. Each of India’s top batsmen, including Yuvraj Singh, scored heavily in the series, and made their runs with some style and vigour.
In addition, Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath, two quality spinners who would have tantalized most batting line-ups, came across an Indian batting armada that was on song.
In fact it is India’s batting that is the main cause of the team’s ascension to the top of the Test cricket world. When scores of 500 runs and above are regularly put up on the scoreboard, as India has managed to do in the past few years, the bowlers have a lot to bowl at. Winning matches becomes that much easier. Moreover, the batters have scored these runs quickly and dynamically even when batting in foreign lands, with the result that the opposition has been on the mat from day 1 on many occasions. To record their all time highest Test score and to twice beat their record for the most runs on any given day of Test cricket, all in the same series, speaks volumes forTeam India’s confidence and ability.
Virender Sehwag’s contribution has been paramount. He is now being bracketed with Sir Vivian Richards as the most destructive batsman of all time. The way in which he goes about his business is just astounding, for he displays no fear of anyone or anything. He goes about pulverizing the bowling whether he is batting on zero or on 293. To be able to score such monstrous scores as he has, with 6 double centuries and 2 triple tons under his belt, and yet to bat with such gay abandon, is most unbelievable, but true! Make no mistake, that third triple century and even a 400 is possible from his bat in the near future. Mind boggling!
The presence of Gautam Gambhir at the top of the order is another huge plus-factor for the Indian line-up. He has emerged as the ICC player of the year and has scored ton after ton in all conditions, to seriously warrant comparison with the great Sunil Gavaskar. His partnership with Sehwag is enough to send shivers down the spines of opposing bowlers.
With Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Yuvraj (who has replaced Sourav Ganguly in the glittering line-up) also batting at their best, India seems to be blessed with an embarrassment of riches nowadays. The fact that excellent players like Wasim Jaffar, Suresh Raina, S. Badrinath and Rohit Sharma cannot find a place in the Test team, whereas they may have walked into any other Test side, indicates how blessed India is at the moment. Even Murali Vijay is playing one lucky Test a year as of now, though he has acquitted himself admirably.
No praise is too high for Zaheer Khan who has regularly provided crucial breakthroughs for India in recent years. In this series, Sreesanth too staged an impressive comeback and in Pragyan Ojha, India have found an exciting prospect. Harbhajan Singh has borne the brunt of the bowling attack after Anil Kumble’s retirement and has proved to be a worthy successor to him for the most part.
Dhoni’s captaincy is the icing on the cake for this Indian team. His astute leadership and steely nerves have served India so well that they have clearly become the team to beat in world cricket now. He has built upon the foundation laid by previous skippers like Ganguly, Dravid and Kumble to create a formidable unit. His batting is also flowering like never before and even his wicket-keeping seems to have improved!
Winning is a habit and this team has picked it up. However, the real test begins now, however, for they will have to prove that their rise is not a flash in the pan, but that India can be as consistently successful a side as the West Indians and Australians were when they were world-champions in different eras. Team India has slipped up in the recent past in the ODI and T-20 formats of the game and needs to pull up its socks therein. The coming months will tell us just how hungry this team is to be called one of the very best in cricket’s history.