India’s ascent to the top of the ICC Test rankings after the 2-0 series triumph against Sri Lanka is a reward for the consistency and the quality of its cricket, both home and away. A powerful batting line-up with the supremely gifted Virender Sehwag providing the innings momentum at the top of the order and a buzzing bunch of pacemen to complement the spinners have made India a threat away from the subcontinent. The side has bucked the odds, shown self-belief in times of adversity, and is less dependent on conditions to force results. Since defeating England away in 2007, India has never slipped below the third rank. It is a great credit to the side that Australia and South Africa are the only other countries to top the rankings since the ICC Test championship was introduced in 2001. India’s feat gains even greater significance when one considers that the rankings take crucial factors into account — more points are awarded for defeating a team on foreign soil or beating a side that is ranked higher. This momentous achievement has been made possible by the concerted effort of several men.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, a promising leader of men, and the quietly efficient Gary Kirsten have teamed up well in a captain-coach association. Others have weighed in. Sourav Ganguly instilled self-confidence in the side and the decision to open with Sehwag — a move that added a different dimension to the side — was his. John Wright put together a competent pace attack, a crucial element in India’s away success. The visionary Greg Chappell groomed the younger cricketers; he saw the spark in the now-prolific Gautam Gambhir. Maestro Sachin Tendulkar has been an inspiration while Rahul Dravid has brought with him technical expertise and cricketing acumen. Anil Kumble played his part as a captain and a champion leg-spinner. V.V.S. Laxman brought grace and elegance to the middle-order and despite fluctuations in form, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan have added value to the side. The selection panel’s emphasis on stability has been vital to India’s success. In the last six years, India has drawn a Test series in Australia, and defeated Pakistan, England, the West Indies, and New Zealand away from home. India, though, is yet to win a Test series in Australia and South Africa. Those should be the final frontiers for the side. But matters of concern persist. Although India will end 2009 as the best Test team, that status is endangered by the fact that it will play very little Test cricket over the next 12 months. The onus is on India’s cricket administrators to ensure Test cricket’s primacy isn’t eroded by the IPL’s success.