In the limited chances captain Virat Kohli has got, he has done well for his team to be deserving of the No. 1 ranking. But, numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Whether India is the best team in the world is open to debate because a team needs to beat every other country home and away to be worthy of that tag. That said, there’s no doubting their potential to become a very good side in all conditions.
Kohli’s team’s ascent to the top rank has been based on wins against Sri Lanka and West Indies, both away from home; South Africa and New Zealand at home. Lanka, West Indies and New Zealand don’t count among the toughest of opponents and South Africa were given no chance on rank turners.
Still, the ranking looks well earned. Compared to the heavyweights of world cricket, at the moment India looks to have the best balance and is playing as a unit.
More importantly, they are playing an exciting brand of cricket with a strong leader at the helm. Since Kohli took over as captain in December 2014, India have won 10, drawn five and lost just one Test.
When India first achieved the No. 1 ranking, in December 2009, the team was full of superstars – Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman. But, they were entering the last phase of their glorious careers. Their reign lasted till 2011, and the fall after that was dramatic.
This team doesn’t have such accomplished names. However, the advantage the batch of 2020 does have is that they have their careers in front of them, rather than behind. Kohli is leading a dynamic batting line-up, which actually came into its own in the series against New Zealand.
- 2001: Beat Australia at home, 2-1. Ending the record run of Steve Waugh’s all-conquering side
- 2003-04: Drew with Australia in Australia, 1-1
- 2003-04: First series victories in Pakistan, 2-1
- 2005-06: First series victory in the West Indies, 1-0
- 2007: Beat England in England 1-0
- 2008-09: First series victory in New Zealand, 1-0
- 2010-11: First time drew series in South Africa, 1-1
- 2015-16: India beat Sri Lanka 2-1 in Sri Lanka
- 2015-16: India beat South Africa 3-0 at home
- 2016-17: India beat West Indies 2-0 in West Indies
- 2016-17: India beat New Zealand 3-0 at home
In Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma, after almost six years India can claim to have a settled batting unit. Like the 2009 batch, anyone in the top six is capable of getting a hundred on any given day.
The biggest positive of the just-concluded series was the return to form of Pujara, while Rohit showed signs of finding his rhythm in the longer version. Along with Kohli and Rahane, they can form an intimidating middle-order. Openers Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, with Shikhar Dhawan and Gautam Gambhir as back-up options, lend solidity at the top.
Also encouraging was the bowlers’ performance. Ravichandran Ashwin was the standout performer again but he got good support from left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja and the pace bowlers. Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav provided vital breakthroughs. Ashwin is a lethal operator, a perfect heir to Anil Kumble and Harbhajn Singh. But Shami and Bhuvneshwar do have some way to go before they can fill the shoes of Zaheer Khan, who was so vital in India’s improved showing away from home in the first decade of the new millennium
“It’s a very balanced side, and all the players are contributing. If they maintain this form, they will be in the No. 1 position for long,” India legend Gundappa Viswanath said.
While the likes of Vijay, Kohli and Rahane have been carrying the team on their shoulders, other batters have started to come into their own. Increased options in batting will allow India to play a more attacking brand of cricket, opined Viswanath.
“The top order is firing. Vijay is very consistent, they have the option of KL Rahul and Gambhir has done well in the recent domestic games
“Rohit is shaping up very well which is another good sign. Pujara has come back strongly. With Wriddhiman Saha and Ashwin doing well with the bat, India can afford to play five bowlers, which is important because it can compensate if one bowler is having an off day,” felt Viswanath.
The Indian stalwart has been most impressed by Kohli’s brand of cricket, his batting as well as his captaincy. Viswanath now calls him No. 1 in the world. “He is one of the best batsmen in the world and he captains aggressively. His batting has been unaffected by the pressures of captaincy. He is No .1 in all aspects.”
That they are playing the full season at home will help the team consolidate their position, observed the batting great. “I have the confidence that even playing overseas, they will do well.”