In January 2008, after India decimated Australia twice within four days to win the triangular one-day tournament in Australia for the first time, India’s captain MS Dhoni had said: “It doesn’t get better than this.”
It did. India beat Australia 2-0 in a Test series at home — the most crushing defeat the (still) world champions have suffered in the past 25 years. It chased down 387 and won a Test against England in Chennai — the biggest successful run chase on the subcontinent. And if it hiccupped against Sri Lanka in the Tests, it won the one-day series — an unprecedented achievement. Dhoni, as Test captain, has now won four matches on the trot — no one has ever done that before.
If you are an India fan who grew up wedded to the misery of watching your team get another pasting, this whiff of success — always within reach, often grasped and enjoyed — is very disquieting. “Is something wrong?” the veterans and the cynics among us ask.
But it seems as though nothing, for once, is. As a sustained spell, this is as good as it has ever got for Indian cricket. And it might just get better in 2009.
Sachin Tendulkar is still capable of conjuring up his unique kind of magic. Virender Sehwag has rediscovered his form. Gautam Gambhir has scored more than a thousand runs in both Tests and one-day internationals in 2008. VVS Laxman looks, in the twilight of his career, just as graceful and effective as he did in his high noon. In Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan, there is an attack that rocked as accomplished a batting side as Australia. Harbhajan can still turn it — and turn it on. And all of them are being led from the front and pushed from behind by Dhoni, a combative and fearless leader.
India does not play Australia in a Test this year, so there is no question of a direct confrontation. But with the official champions’ cloak of invincibility having slipped, the difference that existed between the Aussies and the rest no longer seems like so much of a difference.
This is India’s best chance. There is unlikely to be a better one for Dhoni and his men to prove that India has the best cricket team on the planet.