India’s resurgence to second place in the ICC Test rankings after a period of languishing below Australia and Pakistan is an event to celebrate. For it’s a recognition of the fact that a young side under a new captain is well on the way to reclaiming the glory achieved by Mahendra Dhoni’s star-studded team that first scaled the Test pinnacle six years ago.
That the climb back up the ladder came as a result of a near whitewash against the top-ranked South African side was the icing on the cake. There were several notable performances during the series, foremost among them by offspinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who rediscovered the old-fashioned virtue of preferring consistency over experimentation.
In batting, Ajinkya Rahane underlined his emergence as a class act, and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja will no longer be taken lightly. Some weaknesses were papered over: there is still a question mark over perpetual enigma Rohit Sharma, and the fast bowlers, so crucial to India’s success abroad, were hardly tested.
A lot of fuss was made about underprepared wickets, but these were never unplayable and one would have expected a top touring side to cope. The fact is that India won fair and square; now the focus should be on the question of why bullies at home become notoriously poor travellers, failing repeatedly in Test matches when they venture outside Asia.
India should not allow possible success in a one-day series in Australia early next year to distract from what should be their main aim: Reaching the top position in Test cricket and reaching it on the back of victories abroad. To this end, they need to develop practice facilities in parts of the country that approximate the wet conditions in England and New Zealand; and find a way to handle the bounce in Australia.
They also need to negotiate tour calendars that allow them plenty of time to acclimatise in alien conditions, forgoing some of the profit that comes from packing a series so that they go into a Test after a half-hearted warm up game. Emphasis on T20 cricket is injurious to Test health: Witness some of the younger bowlers coming through to the national ranks who run out of wicket-taking ideas with alarming rapidity.