By Karthik Parimal
Successive whitewashes in England and Australia dragged India down from the ecstasy of the summit to the depths of despair. It gave enough ammunition to those who were firm in the belief that India were undeserving of the No 1 tag, despite the rankings.
When England hammered India, they too were put on a pedestal and were touted to be the best-ever English side in a long time. It made sense back then, as England seemed flawless in all departments of the game. It was assumed that this side could deliver in testing alien conditions and situations. But a rout in the One-Day International (ODI) series in India followed by a gutless performance against a spirited Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has validated the point put forth by doubting Thomases that England - like India - are not very proficient in alien conditions.
A champion side is expected to stamp its authority and class against any opposition, any conditions, home or away. This wasn’t the case with India and England. India surrendered pathetically to England. Much the same can be said England against Pakistan. Not the kind of stuff you expect from No1-ranked sides.
There were certain things noticed in the second and the third Test between England and Pakistan that were unbecoming of England’s numero uno status. After having Pakistan on the mat in the first innings of both these Tests and taking a decent lead, the English side simply let Pakistan off the hook in the third innings and blew it up when they came out to bat in the fourth innings. The players failed to take control of the situation. This was also evident in the Indian side when India played England and Australia recently. Many a times India had the opportunity to deliver a knock-out punch, instead they went on to a play a waiting game and lost the plot.
India wasn’t this helpless a few years ago when they played overseas. They definitely competed well and gave teams like South Africa a run for their money.
England will have its task cut out from here on if it has to retain its ranking in Test cricket. After the series against Pakistan, they will tour Sri Lanka where the pitches turn a lot more than expected. Looking at England’s problems with the turning ball, it is going to be a humungous task for them to come out victorious. Also, a victory-starved Sri Lankan side will not be easy to handle in their own backyard.
After the Sri Lankan tour, England will host West Indies and a formidable South African side. West Indies may not cause much of a problem but South Africa will definitely be a force to reckon with. It is going to be an uphill task for England, but it also gives them an opportunity to prove why they deserve to be the No1 side in the world.
India doesn’t play Test cricket for a while, but the bigger issue is that they do not tour overseas for a long time now. The problem with this is that they’ll never know how good a side they are until they play away from home. Victories at home will not be valued much after the back-to-back debacles against England and Australia.
Teams like Australia, Pakistan and South Africa have shown tremendous signs of improvement and can go on to claim the No.1 rank in Test cricket soon. But these teams need to realise that it’s important that they play equally well in all conditions, else it’s only going to be a musical-chairs contest at the top. The respect that comes with being victorious on a consistent basis irrespective of the conditions or opposition is unfathomable. Only time will tell if these teams have the ammunition to be equally effective when playing away from home.
A few years ago when Australia hit a purple patch, it won 31 and drew nine of the 53 games it played away from home. They lost a few as well, but they rarely went down without a fight. Such was their dominance and hunger to win. The difference in rating points between the No.1 ranked side (England) and the No 5 ranked side (Pakistan) is just 10. What this implies is that all teams in the top five have an opportunity to fight for and attain supremacy. However, it’s important that someone makes the No.1 position their own for a long time, like the Australians did a few years ago, as it could augur well for the respect of Test cricket.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. This 23 year old graduate student, pursuing his Masters in Engineering, could be an appropriate example of how the layers of what inspires, motivates and keeps one happy run deeply in our daily lives. He, unlike others, is not too disappointed about not making it big by playing for the country, but believes that he plays the sport every day with his heart by watching and writing on it)