New Delhi: Jul 21, 2011
Times have changed for Indian as well as English cricket, and how!
India was a nobody in world cricket when Ajit Wadekar led his team to its maiden series victory over the then unofficial world number one side, England in England in 1971.
Forty years down the line, the tables have completely turned, with MS Dhoni's men heading into the current series as the official numero uno side in world cricket.
Back then, Wadekar's side had a point to prove to the detractors who termed its victory in the preceding series in the West Indies as a flash in the pan.
Now, Dhoni and his men are seeking to reaffirm the tag of being the top Test side in the world.
Call it a coincidence but the two leaders -- Wadekar and Dhoni -- seem to have some similarity in their approach.
While Wadekar appeared to be calm and collected and came across as a person who meant business, Dhoni happens to be more of a gambler with a cool head.
Leading a team to an untamed territory for the first time following the unceremonious exit of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi from captaincy, Wadekar led from the front to help India win their first Test series against a fancied English team, led by Ray Illingworth.
On the other hand, Dhoni's transition to the helm of Test cricket came gradually, with him being first entrusted with the responsibility of leading the side in the shorter format of the game.
Dhoni's record as captain in Tests is impressive but England at home will present him with the ultimate challenge.
Though, the Indian captain's list of admirers is as long as Sachin Tendulkar's, Dhoni and his boys have often been labelled as a unit that has not done enough away from home.
"He has got some good leadership skills but one must also remember that a captain is as good as his team. He has done well so far but he has primarily played at home," says former captain Sourav Ganguly.
"He has a good side and it will test him as captain. It is going to be a year which decides how good a captain MS Dhoni really is," insists the left hander.
At the moment, the thing with English cricket is that the measure of their success is only relative to their performance in any recently-concluded Ashes series. It is almost as if the very point of their existence is to put one across Australia, and any other contest is but a preparation.
But in 1971, there was a certain 'ring of truth' about the whole thing.
Led by the shrewd Illingworth, England were truly prospering at that time. They had gotten the better of the West Indies twice in the previous season. Then they had beaten New Zealand and even conquered the Ashes in Australia the previous winter.
With players of the calibre of John Edrich, Geoffery Boycott, Brian Lackhurst, Basil D'Oliviera, Alan Knott, John Snow, Derek Underwood and Peter Lever, they were arguably at their strongest ever, writes Chetan Narula in his book 'Skipper', giving an account of India's greatest captains.
The situation, this time around, is no different as England are still fresh from their Ashes exploits, and boast of a very formidable bowling attack in Chris Tremlett, James Anderson and Graeme Swann, besides a strong batting line-up.
"The conditions in England at that time were quite dry, not much rain luckily for we were visiting in the second half of the summer.
"We played seven county games in the run-up to the first Test and won most of them with good margins. It was an immense confidence booster," Wadekar recalls.
The current Indian team, on the other hand, got a lone game against Somerset in their build-up to the high-profile series.
Much like Wadekar, Dhoni also does not believe in playing to the gallery.
"I always impressed on my team the need for playing according to time and not to the balcony. There is little need to please the crowds by playing attacking shots all the time," Wadekar was quoted as saying to the author.
Noted cricket writer Peter Roebuck says, Dhoni's leadership seems to be in keeping with the time.
"He gives the feeling of equal treatment to all his fellow cricketers, as if the dressing room is a democracy, yet seems to be in command all the time.
"I feel Dhoni's become a man now, from boyish cricketer that he began as. It seems that he is the true successor to Sourav Ganguly and others have just handled the balanced reigns in between the two of them. It is time for India to take next step in world cricket."
While Dhoni has become an acclaimed leader in a short span of time, success on English soil will certainly put him in a different league.