Following 25 years of domination by first the West Indies and then Australia, the top ranking in Test cricket has suddenly become a slip zone. Where both India and then England took steady steps, rising one rung at a time to reach the top, on arrival at the pinnacle they’ve encountered uncertainty. While India proceeded to slither down a greasy fireman’s pole, England are clinging on grimly with closely clipped fingernails. Why the sudden problems for the team rising to the top?
In India’s case, they were always destined for a short stay because they reached the pinnacle with batting strength and only steady bowling. To dominate, a team requires not only bowling strength but also depth and India possessed neither as it sought to conquer a variety of conditions and remain a power. India was also a team built for home conditions and they travelled about as well as seafood salad in the tropics.
England, on the other hand, have a strong, well-balanced attack with some quality replacements. They’re equipped to win away from home, which they did admirably in Australia. Their Achilles’ heel has been batting and, more particularly, the inability to conquer their spin demons.
Despite their batting woes in four consecutive losses, England remained competitive in all those contests thanks to the efforts of their bowlers. The big difference between India and England and the two sides that dominated before them has been the flaws were exposed in the former while the West Indies and Australia were far more complete teams.
However, the overall result for the game has been a much more interesting competition since Australia’s dominance began to wane following the 2005 Ashes loss. There’s now little between the top six sides and one bad day can lead to an upset. Contrast that with a 25-year period where there were very few challengers to the West Indies and then Australia.
SMITH’S NARROW VISION
The one team that should’ve been more dominant in the last few years is the often-disappointing South Africa. They’ve failed to develop fully under Graeme Smith’s rather narrow leadership vision.
India, on the other hand, is likely to struggle for traction on the greasy pole for a while yet. Their batting mastery is a thing of the past and they only have a moderate attack.
When they eventually get around to rebuilding, it’ll require a new leader to inspire an Indian and Virat Kohli is emerging as a likely candidate.