Friday, September 17, 2021

India tour of England, 2021

The current India-England series (we still don't know if it is complete or not) is proving to be quite extraordinary in more ways than one. It has been quite a seesaw affair. Apart from the Headingley Test, the other 3 could have been won by either team. 

The last Test at the Oval has brought so many new truths home. India has always been a team of great individuals who played fantastic cricket but couldn't gel with each other as a team to win matches. They were capable of walking into any world eleven on their own accord. Players like Merchant, Mushtaq, Hazare, Mankad, Manjrekar, Gupte, Ghulam Ahmed, Nawab of Pataudi, Farokh Engineer- the list is endless. Mankad's performance at Lord's in 1952 was of such a class that the MCC decided to label it as Mankad's Test. Freddie Trueman when asked about the players he didn't like bowling to mentioned Vijay Hazare. 

In those days a drawn match was considered equal to a victory for the team. Even the first series win at the Oval didn't inspire them to get into the winning habit as they had a disastrous tour in 1974 when in one innings they were skittled for a paltry 42 runs. 1983 World Cup win by Kapil Dev's team seemed to do the trick. We owe a lot to Kapil for his inspiring, aggressive and , positive approach and leading by example. Without his sensational knock of 175 not out against Zimbabwe we probably still be waiting for our first Cup win. He followed that with 2-0 win in 1986 here. Mohd. Azharuddin was also a great captain and individual performer of his time, instilling enthusiasm and confidence in his players but the final touch was applied by Ganguly. The incredible thing was that it wasn't always the established players who performed. It was the unlikely combination of Yuvraj and Kaif who shocked England in the NatWest final of 2003. Then by his single mindedness and unwavering faith in his own ability Dhoni displayed his own inimitable style of leadership that put India firmly on the International map. Players like  Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag, Tendulkar and Kumble made an impact in their own way.

The victory against Australia in Melbourne was achieved without the leadership of Kohli and by  lesser mortals like Siraj, Sunder and Thakur. During all this time there have been some spectacular though sporadic individual and team performances like a victory against Australia in Calcutta in 2001 after being followed on by virtue of the innings of the century by VVS Laxman who scored 281 along with Dravid's 180 and Harbhajan's sensational bowling performance. 

When we talk about great individual performance there isn't a much brighter example than the one by Sunil Gavaskar's 774 in 4 tests against the might of West indies' most feared pace attack on his debut and that too without any helmet. And just to prove it wasn't a flash in the pan he went on to become the best batsman in the world of his time. He set up new standards for the incoming batsmen to follow.

The Oval Test has proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that this team has come of age. They  not only have great individuals but the new recruits who are prepared to stand up and be counted. Kohli has been severely criticised for the exclusion of the world's best spinner but if they can win 2 tests without him in such sparkling fashion it speaks volumes for his ability and confidence in his team and to get the best out of them in adverse circumstances. One of the great achievements of the present team is that apart from some class batsmen in Rohit, Pujara and Kohli, wily spinners in Jadeja and Ashwin they have the rare presence of impressive and genuine pace bowlers in the team. One wonders how much better Kapil Dev would have performed if he had such pacers to support him from the other end as they always perform better in tandem like Trueman and Statham, Miller and Lindwall, Lillee and Thompson, Waqar and Wasim.

After our team's superb achievement at the Oval we can relax and feel reassured that they will now be better travellers and won't keep us waiting for another 50 years to celebrate at the Oval again !

Dr. K.K. Srivastava for DieHard Cricket Fans

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