Result of a burning desire to conquer

India will suffer from not playing enough Tests

Result of a burning desire to conquer

Skipper MS Dhoni has been in the forefront of India’s climb to the top. AP

The slightly extended perch at the helm – India’s number one status in one-day internationals lasted 24 and 72 hours respectively earlier this year – will allow the team to savour a memorable achievement and reflect on a brilliant run in the last three and a half years or so, and particularly since December 2007.

Some might wonder what the fuss is all about, considering only ten countries play Test cricket, one of whom – Zimbabwe – have had their Test status temporarily scrapped.

That said, for a country that treats cricket with as much reverence as India do, the number one position is a reaffirmation of the quality of the national team, an endorsement of their increasing influence in the cricketing world that extends beyond just financial clout.

Until Sunday, only Australia and South Africa had held the top spot. India find themselves in select, exalted company, their undisputed number one status the result of the burning desire to conquer the world.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni was asked on Sunday if the critics might seek to dilute India’s accomplishment by saying the team hasn’t beaten Australia in Australia or South Africa in South Africa. “For us to beat them, we have to play them first,” the skipper retorted. “You can’t win Test matches and Test series by merely sitting here.”

India will undoubtedly suffer from not playing enough Tests in the foreseeable future. Between now and October, they have just two Tests lined up, so they may not occupy the perch for too long. Indeed, South Africa can regain the top spot if they beat England 2-0 or better in their Test series ending on January 18.

But those are issues beyond India’s control. Where Dhoni’s men, and Indian teams before that, have excelled is in managing the controllables brilliantly.

Sourav Ganguly is widely credited with instilling the belief in his men that if they could be good at home, they could be equally good overseas.

Under the feisty Kolkatan, India won Tests abroad, and one series in Pakistan – though he led only in the final game – but a big series win remained elusive.

Rahul Dravid set that record straight, linking up with Anil Kumble to haul the team to a memorable Test – and series – triumph in Jamaica in July 2006. It was India’s first series triumph in the Caribbean in 35 years; that 1-0 verdict set the ball rolling, in a manner of speaking.

That December, India won their first Test in South Africa. The following year, they defeated England in England for the first time in 21 years as gaping holes were being filled up in some style.

Then, Dravid relinquished the hot seat. Almost unintentionally, the selectors hit upon the right candidate for Test captaincy, and Kumble immediately showed the country what it had missed by not elevating him to the helm earlier, chalking out a vision plan based around India’s immediate assignments.

Between December 2007, Kumble’s first assignment as Test skipper, and now, India have played all Test-playing nations bar Bangladesh and the West Indies. The leggie’s plan revolved around winning as many of those series as possible to make the charge for the number one spot. This is how the numbers stack up: India: 1 - Pakistan: 0; Australia: 2 - India: 1; India: 1 - South Africa: 1; Sri Lanka: 2 - India: 1; India: 2 - Australia: 0; India: 1 - England: 0; New Zealand: 0 - India: 1 and now India: 2 - Sri Lanka: 0.

It’s a wonderful reflection of India’s consistency at home and away, a tribute to the versatility and adaptability of its core group that has essentially remained unchanged for the most part.

It’s the result of individuals’ awareness of and ability to perform their roles, but to also carry out tasks that don’t come naturally to them. Few would have known Gautam Gambhir was capable of batting ten and a half hours to save a Test match; few too would have imagined Dravid counter-attacking with the team at 32 for four to produce 177 of the most sparkling runs.

Cricket skills have been beautifully complemented by mental strength because time and again, India have bounced back from difficult situations with tremendous aplomb. There is belief, confidence, camaraderie and astute leadership. And a hunger that the number one ranking has most definitely not sated.

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