TAMIL NADU

India's cricket resurgence

India's ascent to the number two spot in the ICC Test rankings comes on the back of a commanding performance against Sri Lanka. Undistracted by the controversy over the inelegant inclusion-exclusion of Sourav Ganguly, the Indian team led by the upstanding Rahul Dravid kept its focus and head, displaying a new sense of purpose and the ability to translate that into tangible results. The new BCCI regime's policy of non-interference — leaving team selection to the selectors and cricket matters to experts — played its part in sobering down the atmosphere. The comprehensive Test triumph of December 2005 grows in value when viewed in context: India playing without Virender Sehwag in Delhi and without `The Wall' in Ahmedabad. Both Dravid and coach Greg Chappell deserve the highest praise for leadership and strategy predicated on inventive thinking and adherence to immutable basics. Nothing illustrates better the strides India has made than the batting of the lower order and the quality of fielding seen in the series. Both, essential for long-term success, are outcomes of an improved work ethic. Crucially, the members of the team enjoy one another's success and fringe players have been made to feel part of the squad. The most heartening aspect of the series win is how it has not fitted into the template of success-at-home. After all, many wins in India have come on disintegrating spin-tracks. The Delhi and Ahmedabad pitches were sporting tracks, quite good to bat on; and the victories were "good, hard-working" feats (Dravid), a function of "patience and perseverance" (Chappell). The principal weakness that needs to be overcome is the failure of the top order to bat at the high levels achieved in the fairly recent past (notably in the last series in Australia and Pakistan).

The series was made memorable by a couple of milestones. In the capital city, Sachin Tendulkar sailed into cricket history by passing the milestone of 34 Test centuries that belonged exclusively to Sunil Gavaskar for close to 18 years. Leg-spinner Anil Kumble played his 100th Test at Ahmedabad and, at age 35, ended the series as its outstanding and most lethal player. Left-handers Irfan Pathan and Yuvraj Singh, young veterans now, offered an exciting glimpse of India's future. V.V.S. Laxman, a cricketer's cricketer whom the public mind associates with crisis situations, played contrasting knocks in the two decisive Tests: both were out of the top drawer and highlighted the folly of those who suggested he was dispensable. But let not fans be carried away. Sterner tests await India. A resurgent Pakistan, led in its own territory by Inzamam the Magnificent, is a tough prospect, very different from the side in disarray it was when India toured in 2004. Only if Dravid's men can defeat Pakistan and, immediately after that, England can India claim the honour of being Australia's chief rival — a spot now indicated by the numbers that dictate rankings.

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