Cricket’s ranking put to the Test

October 06, 2016 01:19 am | Updated November 09, 2021 01:49 am IST

India’s >ascent to the number one position in Test rankings offers some cause for cheer given the tumult off the field, with the R.M. Lodha Committee and the Board of Control for Cricket in India still >sparring over administrative reform. India’s 178-run victory over New Zealand in the second Test at Kolkata, paving the way for a series triumph, secured the lead billing. This is the fourth instance of India securing the top slot in the International Cricket Council’s rankings since it was introduced in 2003. It is significant that out of the four stints, irrespective of the time frame, three have been over the past year. For a squad evolving from the pangs of transition and with big shoes to fill, from those of Sachin Tendulkar to those of Anil Kumble, it has done remarkably well. The combined numbers of the playing XI at Kolkata were 28.54 years in age and 27.54 in the average number of Tests played — for such a young team to register dominance, under Virat Kohli’s captaincy, is no mean achievement. When India first secured the number one ranking in 2009, it was a team packed with contemporary greats, including Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman, Virender Sehwag, M.S. Dhoni, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh.

In contrast, the current line-up is a work in progress, with cricketers still working out their natural slot in Tests. Kohli and R. Ashwin remain the pivots, while Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane and Wriddhiman Saha have established their staying power as Test cricketers. The emergence of opener K.L. Rahul is a good sign, especially given India’s traditional dilemma in finding batsmen capable of seeing off the new ball. These men form the core that can take India forward. However, much remains to be done. The opening combine is yet to firm up, and Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma need to re-establish their solidity. The bowling remains over-reliant on Ashwin. These shortcomings should be sorted out over a long home season in the course of which India will host England, Australia and Bangladesh. The first two will offer keen competition, unlike what India encountered against the West Indies and New Zealand. For now, there is the third Test at Indore, and a 3-0 sweep against New Zealand would give India confidence for the rest of the season. As for the team displaced from the top position in the ICC ranking, Pakistan, its short-lived reign poses a question about the difficulty in grading Test teams. Pakistan plays most of its matches away from home, and therefore does not enjoy a similar advantage. Nonetheless, the dominance of the two subcontinental teams in the ICC ranking affirms the strength of South Asian cricket.

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