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India seek No. 1 spot

Five days from now, India might be on the cusp of their own journey — as the world’s No. 1 Test team, or they might be struggling to come to terms with the baggage of loss — questions about form, fitness, selection and all the rest as inevitably, an emotional, cricket-obsessed nation will react to what might have been, reports Kadambari Murali Wade. Stats speak

cricket Updated: Feb 14, 2010 00:48 IST
Kadambari Murali Wade

If the Indian players were in search of inspiration in the face of the odds stacked against them, there is probably no one better placed to give it to them than Mike Horn. Stats speak

On Friday night, two days before the series-deciding Test at the Eden Gardens, the Indians attended a motivational lecture by South African explorer and author Horn, in town with his wife for just one night — to talk to India’s finest.

Horn was the first person to circumnavigate the Arctic Circle (a 20,000km trek), solo, and then, with Norwegian Borge Ousland, to walk to the North Pole in the winter. The journey around the Arctic Circle incidentally, began a month after the tips of his frostbitten fingers were amputated.

Five days from now, India might be on the cusp of their own journey — as the world’s No. 1 Test team, or they might be struggling to come to terms with the baggage of loss — questions about form, fitness, selection and all the rest as inevitably, an emotional, cricket-obsessed nation will react to what might have been.

South Africa skipper Graeme Smith might have said on match eve that the No. 1 ranking wasn’t on the top of his mind — this Eden game has come down to a showdown to No. 1 between South Africa and India — winning in India was, but as he also added, that’s because one takes care of the other. For the Indians though, and its board, this matters. It would be a badge of honour, a public affirmation of everything that this team has achieved and stood for, a symbolic sign that tells the world, this ‘new India’ works.

This Indian team — it was a process that began under Sourav Ganguly, took better shape and focus under Anil Kumble and came to fruition under MS Dhoni, is different from others before in so many ways.

It has a breezy attitude, one that is in your face yet professional. People are assigned specific roles yet there is no overwhelming dependence on one. It is a team of not one but several superstars yet no one is bigger than the whole.

It is a team that keeps its own counsel. There are obviously inter-personal differences and rivalries within the team, there is intense competition for certain places, yet, unlike teams of old, dirty linen is not aired in public — not even discreetly aired. And whatever their insecurities, they seem to genuinely celebrate each others’ successes, the hallmark of a successful team.

But this is all also because they have had a long honeymoon with each other and with cricket. Unfortunately, given that this is cricket-obsessed India, Kolkata over the next few days could end up badly rattling this unit.

As Smith, who said he is “pretty confident about dealing with the pain” of a fractured finger joint and playing, stated: “It doesn’t take rocket science to know what you need to do to be successful here”.

India know what they need. Their pacebowlers to take a leaf out of Dale Steyn’s book and hit the deck hard (Dhoni said there’s some grass on the pitch that will aid seam movement) and make inroads into the Proteas batting. Harbhajan Singh to lift his game and the team. Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag to justify top billing and build a foundation from which everyone else can take off. To get rid Jacques Kallis.

Dhoni indicated, again, that Kallis, “the perfect allrounder”, was the difference between the two teams. India’s strike bowlers need to make sure the lack of a fifth bowler doesn’t really matter.

This is their shot at glory.