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Summit retained

A journey that started at Eden Gardens almost nine years ago completed a glorious circle at the same venue on Thursday.

cricket Updated: Feb 19, 2010 00:31 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

A journey that started at Eden Gardens almost nine years ago completed a glorious circle at the same venue on Thursday.

It's widely believed that the epic victory against Australia here in 2001 injected in the Indian team the confidence that they could beat the best. Fittingly or coincidentally, the win to officially be the best for the season ending on April 1 came at the Eden again.

That the moment the nation was waiting for came after some struggle was because of someone who too completed a circle of sorts at Eden Gardens. The man standing between India and history was Hashim Amla. The batsman made his debut here in November 2004 and his valiant effort confirmed that there can be shades other than black and white in a story of the united colours of South Africa.

The cricket on offer wasn't of the best quality, but had dramatic ups and downs and a tense finish because of a combination of reasons. Amla prolonged the Indian wait and there were some unusual bowling changes and field placements which led the pessimists to believe for a moment that it was going to be a story of so near yet so far.

This toil makes the success more valuable because the road to be the best in the world can't be a bed of roses, as it seemed at the start of the day. Amla frustrated India, sharing three stubborn partnerships in each of the sessions and forced them to work harder every time they appeared to have got the job done.

Despite being 232 ahead when play began in bright conditions after a gloomy Wednesday, India decided against attacking Amla. There were hardly two men catching when he was on strike in the first session, with protection in the deep. Not that the batsman was playing and missing or getting beaten very often, but the absence of men around him certainly reduced the pressure on Amla.

No Zaheer Khan and a wayward Ishant Sharma meant the attack was handicapped and MS Dhoni kept using them in short bursts, probably to keep fresh. Harbhajan bowled the longest spell of the day of 13 overs on either side of lunch and nine was the maximum that Amit Mishra got at a stretch. It meant the bowlers could hardly settle down to a plan.

What was looking inevitable at the beginning of the day was threatening to become impossible as a result of this and two dropped catches, but due to the job done earlier, India were not under time pressure except for in the end.

The pressure was always on the batsmen and although they gave it their best, it was not good enough.

They tested India’s character nonetheless and that makes this achievement more creditable, because Dhoni's team earned it the hard way. It wasn't the most gruelling test of skills, but a test of application and focus.

India had to strive to convert their advantage to a series-levelling innings and 57-run win. That they showed determination to claw back each time things got difficult makes them worthy winners of the No. 1 crown. Debates are welcome, but after April 1.