The victory in the Fourth Test at Nagpur was a real team victory. Sehwag and debutant M.Vijay got India off to good starts in both innings, the middle order came good in one or the other inning, Dhoni played a captain’s knock in both innings and Harbhajan provided him some crucial support when the match was on the line. In bowling, the pacemen Ishant Sharma and Zaheer khan and the spinners Harbhajan and Amit Mishra worked in tandem to dismiss the Aussies twice, something I would not have believed possible before the series started. Except for Rahul Dravid who had a nightmare outing, every member of the team contributed. Full credit to the team , and even more to Dhoni’s captaincy. ( More of that later). The 172 run margin of victory is deceiving because the match was in the balance at tea on the fourth day with India on the ropes at 166 for 6 and an overall lead of about 255. Had Ponting continued to mantain the pressure, the Aussies might have had to score less than 300 for a victory. Why Ponting did not ignore the slow over rate, and continue with his strike bowlers, will always remain a mystery. The penalty would have been a larger fine for the team and his own suspension for the next test ( against New Zealand). Was it the threat of a suspension which deterred him ? Whatever. Dhoni and Bhaji steered India out of the woods and to a 2-0 series win. On the issue of Dhoni having his bowlers bowl defensively to an 8-1 field, I’m of two minds. On the one hand, it is definitely not fun to watch . On the other hand, it’s within the rules and is a tactic that has been employed by other teams in the past. I guess I wish it hadn’t been done but can’t condemn it outright.
Let’s not be too pumped up with this win. Certainly, every Indian supporter has to be happy but let’s remember it was at home against a rebuilding Aussie team that was handicapped by the absence of Andrew Symonds ,injuries to it’s only frontline spinner and by illnesses to Clarke and others. Had Symonds been available, his presence alone might have resulted in an Aussie win in either the first or the Fourth Test or both. India was also fortunate to win the toss in three of the four tests, including both tests that they won. That made a huge difference. All in all, while India should be proud and happy about their performance, and while the gap between Australia and India has narrowed markedly , Australia is still Number 1. After this defeat, the Aussies will be looking to rebound against a weak New Zealand team and will be out for blood. I feel sorry for the Maoris. This defeat will also result in the Australian Board taking a long hard look at their aging warriors. The next few months should see a wholesale turnover within the Australian team and I doubt that more than four of them will be around for the 2011 World Cup.
By the way, I admire the Australians for going for a win that would have tied the series rather than playing for a draw. The chances of scoring almost 400 runs on a turning wicket against a quality attack were slim but that did not deter them. Most other teams would have been content play safe but the Aussies didn’t , preferring instead to go down fighting.
The Indian Teams future is bright but unsettled. Of the Fab Five, Ganguly and Kumble are already gone and Dravid is on the way out. I expect him to retire if not now, then certainly by the end of the year. He seems to be hanging on so that he can emulate Mark Taylor’s record for catches in Test matches ; at present he is two or three short. Much as I admire Dravid as a player and a person, he seems to have lost confidence in his abilities and his retirement cannot not come too soon. Tendulkar’s body is betraying him and I hope he retires gracefully rather than insisting on sticking around for 2011. Laxman will probably assume Dravid’s #3 spot in the batting order for a year or two. Still, there will be several openings in the Indian Test and ODI teams and it will be actually be more interesting to see the youngsters compete for them than to have the Fab 5 stick around.
Dhoni’s Captaincy. I know it’s early to say this but Dhoni is on his way to becoming India’s greatest captain. He leads with a controlled aggression , is a born leader of men , is contantly thinking on his feet and is a shrewd tactician. He commands great respect from his players, witness Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan toiling for long spells without complaint.No other Indian captain in recent memory comes close to him. He also has an innate decency which is remarkable. After the victory at Mohali, he thoughtfully gave one of the stumps to Saurav Ganguly as a souvenir. With the Nagpur Test winding down, he handed over the reins of the team to Ganguly one last time. And at the presentation, he had Kumble step up with him to receive the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. These are the actions of a team-first player and one who is secure in himself and his abilities. I only hope that the heavy demands being made on him ( captain, wicket-keeper-batsman, Tests/ODI/T-20 ) don’t cause him to burn out. He is the one indispensible man if we are to win in 2011. Perhaps , it would be a good thing for him to shed his wicket-keeping duties as spots open up with the retirement of the seniors. Certainly, he deserves a place in the side just for his batting and his captaincy.
M. Vijay seems to be a real find. When his name was announced as a sub for Gambhir, it took me (and every one else) by surprise. Aakash Chopra, Wasim Jaffer or even Virat Kohli would have seemed the most logical choice. Chopra had performed well in Australia in 2003 , Jaffer had had some good scores against the Aussies last year and Kohli did creditably against the Sri Lankans earlier this year. Vijay certainly did all that could be expected, getting India off to flying starts in both innings along with Virender Sehwag, and being instrumental in the run-outs of Hayden and Hussey in the Aussie first innings. When he was selected , there were snide remarks that he was selected because Kris Srikkanth , the chief selector is from the same state as him ( actually he isn’t; Srikkanth is from Karnataka; Vijay is from Tamil Nadu) . One ‘expert’ even ‘predicted’ that Vijay would score less than 10 in both innings. Wonder what he has to say now !
No need for All-rounders. Ian Chapell commented that the one thing that India needed was a genuine all-rounder. I respectfully disagree. Thanks to Greg Chapell’s insistence, when he was the India coach, the Indian tailenders have developed into passable batsmen. Harbhajan, Zaheer and Amit Mishra can all bat a bit and the Indian ‘tail’ is not as long as it used to be. Besides Dhoni is not a specialist wicket keeper, being a reliable batsman particularly in the shorter forms of the game. Sehwag and Tendulkar are useful part time spin bowlers as Sehwag more than proved in this test. This is much better than having a ‘genuine allrounder ‘ like Irfan Pathan, who does not produce either with bat or ball !
The last word on Ganguly. Ganguly, wo has just retired , will be remembered as an elegant stroke player and India’s most successful captain to date. He re-vitalized Indian cricket at a time when it was reeling from the match-fixing scandals and brought a new found combativeness and aggression to a passive, chronically underperforming group of players. However, he also created deep schisms within the team , set a bad example to the younger players with his arrogance and bad manners , played politics, and stayed on well past his sell-by date. His retirement comes later than it should have . Finally,finally, the youngsters will get their chance.