Best of times for Indian cricket?
"After the horrors of a decade ago," says a cricket writer, "these are the best of times". He was talking about India which became the world's top-ranked Test team after routing the visiting Sri Lankans in Mumbai on Sunday. He was remembering the 1990s when India inevitably choked while playing abroad, and the team's performance took a beating.
So how significant is this achievement? It is definitely one to raise a toast to, but many sensible commentators rightly suggest that fans should not lose their head over it. Remember, India climbed to the top of the ICC rankings without beating Australia and South Africa - two of the world's toughest Test playing sides - on their turf, but that's how quirky rankings can be. As my friend Clayton Murzello writes: "It makes you wonder what sense do the rankings really make? But then, that's what happens when superiority or inferiority is decided only by statistics."
It's been a long, strange trip to the top of the Test pile for India. After Sunday, it had won 101 of the 433 Tests it had played in its 72-year Test history. (It has lost 136 and drawn 195 games.) That's a modest win rate of 23%. Compare that with India's one-day stats - 351 wins in 727 games since 1974, a win rate of nearly 50%.
Now look at India's most formidable foe, Australia - 333 wins in 714 Tests since 1877. That's an impressive win rate of 46%, double that of India.
But there is an interesting catch, pointing to the improvement in India's fortunes: since 2000, India has won 40 of the 103 Tests it played, and the win rate has climbed to nearly 40%. But during the same period, Australia clocked up an amazing win rate of over 68%, winning 77 of 112 Tests.
India's resurgence began with the maverick Saurav Ganguly taking over the reins of the team, and becoming one of its most successful captains ever with a curious mix of aggression and intransigence. Saurav's heir MS Dhoni carries the mantle of captaincy with a cool head.
So, it is time for some celebration, but, as commentators like Clayton say, "let us not go overboard" with this ranking feat. India's batting line up is undoubtedly the strongest in the world now, but its bowling, despite a decent pace battery, can be very patchy and infuriatingly inconsistent. India's fabled spin bowling reputation appears to be on the wane - and there are no exciting upcoming spinners on the domestic circuit. The team still lacks a top class all-rounder, a must in today's game.
So there is a lot of work to be done to make India a team that dominates world cricket, the way West Indies and Australia did not very long ago. Maybe this will never happen as the game mutates into Cricket Lite with newer, crowd-pulling, shorter versions of the game - including, who knows, even Tests in the future. What do you think?