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India reverse roles with Test win over Australia

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Mihir Bose | 15:13 UK time, Monday, 10 November 2008

A Test series win, even one as emphatic as India's over Australia, does not change the cricket world.

Yet this series has exploded so many cricketing myths that it has resonance beyond the actual results on the field of play.

The first question to be asked is does this result mean that the near 20-year dominance of cricket by Australia is coming to an end?

I am aware similar predictions were made after England's Ashes victory of 2005, and we all know how absurd they were soon made to look.

However, the case in recent decades has been, if you want to know where Australia is going look to India not England. This has often been quite a pointer to the future direction of Australian cricket.

India's players celebrate victory

Back in 1987 when Australia went to the subcontinent for the first World Cup to be held outside England its cricket was at a very low ebb, not only far behind the West Indies, then the masters of cricket, but repeatedly thrashed by England.

Then having surprised everyone by beating Pakistan in Pakistan and getting to the final - England had also done equally well beating India in India - they probably surprised themselves by beating England and taking home the World Cup for the first time.

In 1989 they won back the Ashes and, though beating the West Indies took time, they were on their way to constructing the dynasty that has dominated cricket under captains Allan Border, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting.

This is not only Australia's first series defeat since 2005 but the first by a 2-0 Test margin since Vivian Richards led the mighty West Indians.

What made this series remarkable is how often Australia played like India and India played like Australia.

Australia specialised in letting India off the hook. The script when playing Australia is not meant to be like this.

However, right from the first Test in Bangalore, the only one Australia looked like winning, there were several occasions when Australia had India on the ropes but seemed reluctant to finish them off.

This was again demonstrated after tea on the Sunday of the fourth and final Test. And it was India who displayed an almost Australian-style resilience.
This will please the Indians mightily.

Ever since I can remember the agonising debate in India has been, why don't Indians have a sporting killer instinct?

India may be an underperforming sporting nation, but there is no dearth of fine individual sportsmen and women produced by the country.

However for Indians the angst has been that these fine players never had the sort of killer instinct that would make them champions. The most potent example of this was the wonderfully gifted Vijay Amritraj, compared to the less talented but more gutsy Jimmy Connors. While Connors was a great winner, Vijay made the Indians sigh and wonder and think of what might have been.

Indian cricket under Mahendra Singh Dhoni seems to at be at last acquiring a 'they shall not pass' attitude that has more often been the hallmark of the truly great sportsmen and sports teams.

Indians have always admired the Australians and their winning spirit and this series suggests Dhoni has something of the Australian in him.

Dhoni, of course, is part of that modern era of Indians, born long after India secured her freedom and with virtually no colonial hangover.
This sprit was also evident in Sourav Ganguly.

I was surprised when Ganguly was described as Lord Snooty. I must say I always found him a very pleasant, charming man.
Yes he did not take prisoners, his clashes with Steve Waugh were epic, but he was the first generation of Indian cricketers who did not feel Indians had to apologise for being Indians.

It is worth recalling that when he made his Test debut in 1996 Indian cricket seemed to be revisiting its own dreadful past. His roommate Navjot Singh Sidhu had walked out of the Indian tour of England claiming his honour had been sullied. It has never been made clear how this was done.

As for Ganguly's century at Lord's I well recall that on that Saturday afternoon, Lord's like the rest of England, was more preoccupied by events at Wembley where England were playing Spain in Euro 96.

Many in the Long Room that day had their eyes on the pictures from Wembley not what was going on in the middle.

Ganguly not only went on to become India's most successful captain but nurtured a whole generation of cricketers. It is not without significance that as Ganguly left the field after this Test for the last time Harbhajan Singh was the first to lift him up.

It was under Ganguly that India, so often lions at home, lambs abroad, started winning Tests on their travels on a regular basis.

However for all his spirit Ganguly's India did display a certain lack of ambition, for instance during the 2002 series in the West Indies and the 2004 in Australia, when having taking a lead, they squandered it.

Dhoni gives the impression he is ready to take Indian cricket to a new, higher, gear.

And while India remains the land of spin it is quite remarkable that the man of the series was the opening bowler Ishant Sharma.

Unlike Pakistan, where conditions are similar, India has not often produced many fast bowlers, but this seems to be changing and this series showed a more balanced attack than India has fielded for many a season: two pacers, two spinners.

Wickets in India show no signs of changing yet that pace now not only complements spin but even leads the attack.
Another lesson India could be said to have learnt from Australia. And just when Australia's attack has lost bite and balance.

But then that is the magic of sport. It changes when you least expect change.


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