Quarter of the way

I have used the Marathon as an analogy to describe India’s attempt to climb to the top of the ICC Test rankings in the post titled Milestones on a Marathon . The West Indies tour has come to an end and while the one day series was definitely a misstep, the Test series victory was a significant milestone. Yes, India squandered two opportunities, and had to come from behind to draw the third Test, before finally converting their winning position in the fourth Test match after some eighth wicket anxiety courtesy Dinesh Ramdin. Yet, the importance of this victory was not lost on Rahul Dravid, who as a keen student of the game knew exactly how many years it has been since India last won in the Caribbean (1971) and the number of years since their last major series win outside the sub continent, which was in England 1986. Those two statistics in itself shows how bare the BCCI cupboard has been on away tours, and really puts in perspective as to how good the Indian cricket team was and is.

This is exactly why I have no hesitation in labeling Rahul Dravid as India’s best batsman ever! Tracking back to Headingley 2002, Adelaide 2003, Rawalpindi 2004 and now Jamaica 2006, his singular batting performances have setup these famous Indian victories. Not since Leander Paes has any one person consistently won so many matches for India, and to think people had the temerity to debate his elevation to Indian captaincy. In my mind, there is no debate. Nobody in Indian cricket history has deserved it more, and it will be a while before any another cricketer will deserve it as much. Dravid has said on a few occasions “In the end, we must realize that we are only playing a sport.” This facet of him, an ability to detach himself and not be consumed with the game allows him to grow as a person and makes him a better player and a brave Captain.

The coming season is going to be a glut of one day matches leading up to the 2007 World Cup, and the only Test series India will play before the World Cup is in South Africa. The 3 Tests against South Africa will be another significant milestone and it will provide a final opportunity for Yuvraj Singh to cross the line from Michael Bevan-dom into a Test batsman. In his first full series, Mohammad Kaif was able to score his maiden hundred, and that was a major step for him. Kumble was outstanding in the series and has been since the Australian tour of 2003/04. Like fine wine, he seems to be getting better with age. Harbhajan proved that he can be a major force abroad as well, but most heartening was the performance of the young fast bowlers Munaf Patel(14 wickets) and Sreesanth(10 wickets) on their maiden international tour. India need fast bowlers to win abroad and these two are both wicket takers who can do just that.

The World Cup, is the halfway point of the Marathon and even if India wins it, far from a sure thing, the real test will be after the Cup, when they play England (away), Pakistan (away) and Australia (away). Australia will be the finish line and it has to be seen if India are staggering or striding as they breast the tape.