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The new (old) world order

December 9, 2012

On one side of the world, Ricky Ponting, the last of “The Invincibles”, called it a day and the South Africans quietly attained what they have looked good for, almost ever since they re-entered international cricket. On the other side, a constantly improving English side have finally exhausted every excuse that the delusional Indians threw at them and beat them on poorly prepared surfaces euphemistically called “rank turners”.

Irrespective of what ICC “rankings” say, the two best Test sides in the world by a distance are South Africa and England. Australia now is a distant 3rd with the rest bunching together in a pack further back with little to separate them. While it might be too much to expect either of those sides to dominate world cricket like the Australians used to, the English have the balance to outplay most other sides on current form.

A whole-body CT scan of world cricket today would highlight India as a candidate for the ICU. The statistics aren’t necessarily the giveaway. Since the start of 2009, India has won 11 of 18 home test matches and 6 of 22 away test matches. This isn’t drastically worse than how they have fared in the past. It is the nature of the wins and losses that indicate the problem. The losses have been one-sided and the home wins have come largely on tracks that were embarrassingly underprepared. With the current England series, the shortcut methods have finally backfired against the unlikeliest opponent, traditionally, the worst players of spin bowling. In balance, India now has the worst fielding side, an average pace bowling attack, a below-average spin-bowling attack and a perennially underperforming batting lineup.

Hardly surprising given how the BCCI hasn’t even tried to disguise its lack of interest in the traditional format as it has directed all efforts toward sustaining the IPL. With bits and pieces players becoming flavours of the month based on 8 and 12 ball innings, there are no batsmen pushing for places in a format that requires more than the attention span of a goldfish. Slow bowlers, mis-classified as spinners see more dividends from perfecting darts than understanding the vagaries of flight and drift. A few promising quick bowlers have emerged, but with the national captain publicly demanding turning crumbling tracks, there is little incentive for them to stick around long enough to learn their craft instead of adapting to reduce pace and introduce variations.

The irony is that with the resources and time diverted to the shortest format, India’s T20 performances since the first world cup, make the inaugural tournament win out to be a fluke. In retrospect, Misbah’s poor shot judgment in that final leading to an Indian win could’ve been the worst thing that has happened to Indian cricket.

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