So England have faltered yet again. They have gone down 0-2 at home in the recently concluded Test series against South Africa. In the process they have lost their ICC No. 1 Test ranking and the Proteas are the new world champions.
It’s been a year since England thrashed India 4-0 to claim the No. 1 ranking and since then they’ve failed to win a single Test series against a top team. Their lone victory has come against a lowly ranked West Indies side.
In the first series after they became No. 1, they got walloped by Pakistan 0-3. The worst part was that none of those matches were really close and Pakistan won each quite comfortably.
After that they scraped through with a draw against Sri Lanka as the series ended 1-1. The current tour with South Africa has been all the more disappointing. In the first Test at The Oval, South Africa lost a mere two wickets for 637 runs as against England’s 20 wickets for 625. It was total annihilation.
This is not the first time this has happened. When England won the 2005 Ashes by beating Australia 2-1, they were declared the unofficial Test champions. That time also they lost to Pakistan immediately after and couldn’t win a Test series for almost a year. To make matters worse, they were thrashed 0-5 by Australia in the very next Ashes.
From the top, they began their slow decline to the bottom. After reaching the top once again in 2011, they are going in for a remarkably similar decline which will be compounded by the fact that they are visiting India soon, a place they have never done traditionally well in Tests.
Of course that’s taking no credit away from South Africa. Ever since its re-entry in the early 1990s, it has been the most consistent team in international cricket. It is a mystery how they have never won the World Cup. That and the fact that they could hold on to their No. 1 Test ranking for only a few months before India snatched it away from them last time.
It appears that no Test team will dominate the way the Australian team did till recently and the West Indies team did before that. In the next couple of years Australia, England and even India will all get a crack at the No. 1 trophy. In a way, Test cricket is entering its most exciting and competitive phase now.
This is also India’s biggest chance to claw its way back to the top. Right now, after the 0-8 overseas drubbing, it is sitting at Ground Zero. The next couple of years will be extremely crucial and something which will help is that we are playing at home only in Tests for quite some time.
Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are statistically the most successful Indian opening pair. But they have been pretty shaky in the last year and this is their chance to come back in form. If they succeed, then they could be the world’s best opening pair of all time.
Virat Kohli is a superstar in the ODI arena and has shown great promise in Tests. But he has to convert his ODI consistency into Tests, a highly desirable thing considering that he’s the brightest hope among the newcomers.
The toughest ask will be to replace Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and eventually Sachin Tendulkar. This is the best time for newcomers to get into our Test team. 7-8 players may have to be tried out in the next 1-2 years before we can have a settled batting order.
MS Dhoni has crashed as Test captain, but he has been given a second lease of life. He built the T20 team from scratch to win the World Cup in 2007. He rebuilt the ODI team to win the WC in 2011. Now it is his chance to rebuild the Test team again with youngsters. He will also have to desperately re-invent himself as a Test batsman if India are to beef up their middle and late order.
Our bowling is also in the doldrums and it remains to be seen whether Harbhajan Singh can make a comeback and whether young pacers can put their hands up and be as reliable and effective as Zaheer Khan.
The next one year will decide whether we can compete with the likes of South Africa, Australia and England or whether we will be a has-been team in Tests.
Also see: VVS: Greater the challenge, greater the man
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/