Suresh Raina (L) & Harbhajan Singh”¦ during the course of their 146-run, seventh wicket partnership against the West Indies in the ongoing first Test at Kingston, Jamaica © AFP
Suresh Raina (L) & Harbhajan Singh”¦ during the course of their 146-run, seventh wicket partnership against the West Indies in the ongoing first Test at Kingston, Jamaica © AFP

 

By The Cricket Couch

 

If you were a fan of a cricket team other than the Aussie teams of the 90s and the early 2000s, you know the feeling — your team makes early inroads in to the strong Australian batting line-up, including greats like Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden and others, and you are feeling quite good about yourself and your team. The Aussies are five or six down with next to nothing on board. You think you should be able to wrap them up soon and let your batsmen drive home the advantage.

 

But that is when you will have a pesky tail-ender like Jason Gillespie or a Shane Warne digging their heels in and provide solid support to the lone remaining recognized batsman. What looks like a boundary here, a boundary there immediately avalanches in to full-fledged counter-assault. And before you know it, the seventh or eighth wicket partnership has reached triple figures and you are left wondering what the hell happened.

 

This is usually characteristic of a champion team. They just do not know when they have been beaten. They just don’t quit. They back themselves to fight themselves out of the proverbial corner. Sure, they might lose sometimes, but they know they are not gonna die wondering.

 

The 146-run, seventh wicket partnership between Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh on the opening day of the first India-West Test reminded me of the Aussie counterattacks. Before you crucify me for even comparing this Indian team to the great Australian teams of the past two decades, take not that I merely said “it reminded me”.

 

At 85 for six and the team missing three experienced batsmen in Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, Indian fans that lived through the 90′s would’ve expected the team to fold up well short of 150. Generally, that would’ve been the time when the Gavaskars of the world trotted out stuff like “He has a first class century for his state Ranji team” and “he is no mug with the bat”. Instead, Harbhajan came out positive, which quickly rubbed off on the last “recognized” batsman (playing his 8th Test) and they quickly rattled off the boundaries and made Darren Sammy take the foot off the pedal and spread the field. If not for a brilliant catch by Devendra Bishoo, India may have ended up with a far larger score than their eventual 246.

 

Sure, 246 is not 400 (duh!), but its certainly a respectable score on a pitch that is turning square on Day 1.

 

We have seen several such fightbacks from this Indian team in the last three to four years. Even the World Cup final in Mumbai attests to that. Perth ’08, after the Sydney debacle, is another instance when the team got together and proved an invaluable point. Following the innings defeat in Centurion in the recent Test series in South Africa, the Indian team fought back to even the series 1-1 on a tough pitch in Durban. The Australia tour of India in 2008 had several instances that provided ample evidence of the steely backbone to this Indian team.

 

It has been said that this Indian team is a slow starter in a series and to an extent it is not too off the mark. Since October 1, 2008, India hasn’t lost a Test series and at home, have won all except for one which they drew 1-1 (versus South Africa), on the way to becoming the top-ranked test team in the world – another evidence of their ability to fight back.

 

Certainly this Indian squad does not have bowlers of the calibre of a Glenn McGrath or a Shane Warne, but under helpful conditions, their bowling attack led by Zaheer Khan (when fit and able) is nothing to be scorned at, in relation to the other current Test teams. Perhaps this could be the only reason that might prevent this team from becoming as dominant as those Aussie teams (and a small case of one of the best middle orders of the modern game retiring soon) but there is no “quit” in this team and has been an absolute pleasure watching them over the years.

 

But champions are celebrated by how they close out the games and not necessarily how they begin. Michael Jordan is lauded as the best to have played basketball, especially for his ability to come through when it counts. Even Dirk Nowitzki was shooting 6 for 23 till he got hot, hit three clutch baskets and closed out the Game Six of the recent NBA finals.

 

(Subash, the author of this article, is based in the US. He writes about cricket to forget the body blows and sledges he received from his elder brothers when he was 7, while playing backyard cricket. He blogs at http://thecrickecouch.com/ and tweets as @thecricketcouch)