India cannot ask for a greater occasion to stamp their authority

By Veturi Srivatsa, IANS,

India are No.1 Test nation for over a year now. This is undisputed, and so is that India are the World Champions in the limited-overs cricket. Yet, there are murmurs that India will have to win a series in Australia and South Africa to be truly called world champions. Before that India will have to overcome England in the four-Test series, starting at Lord’s Thursday.

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India cannot ask for a greater occasion to stamp their superior status than winning their 100th Test against England and the 2000th in the game’s history. Then Sachin Tendulkar has his milestone to reach, his hundredth international century, failing which either Rahul Dravid or Venkata Sai Laxman can make it a ton of centuries between the three of them by reaching the three-figure mark at the cricket’s hoary headquarters.

Seldom has a Test been invested with so much. The English media has a knack of hyping up their sport, cricket is no exception. There is little doubt that the two teams have been playing consistently well in Tests and they have come a long way.

Call it confidence or overconfidence, Englishmen are entitled to believe that by the end of the series their side have a good chance of displacing India from the top.

For India, it is a big opportunity to seal the series and state that they are the No.1, not because of their manipulative skills playing three-Test or two-match series as some believe, but by proving they have it in them to win four-Test series.

The series itself is pregnant with all sorts of possibilities. If England are looking to win it either 3-1 or 2-0, India would first try to win at least one Test and draw another to make sure they remain the top side.

If England can proudly claim that the Andrew Strauss-Andy Flower combination has done enough in the last two years to bring the team to a stage where they are confident they can beat any side in the world, India’s new coach Duncan Fletcher would like to make sure he can keep the team where his ward Gary Kirsten left — best in the world in two of the three formats of international cricket.

What was thought to be a three-way race between India, South Africa and Australia for both the Test and ODI world championships has got expanded with England barging in after their Ashes triumph. If Australia are still in the process of rebuilding their side, South Africa are left fighting their nerves despite raising a crack team. India and England are today considered the best Test teams with a consistent record to back them up.

Nothing can be a better yardstick to settle the issue between the two than a series of more than three Tests. India would like to tell the world they are the nation to watch both on and off the field. Already the mindgames have begun and a lot of issues that spilled over from the field are being used to target India and their captain.

The English players and the media keep harping on India’s reluctance to accept the umpire’s Decision Review System (DRS), though the reservation is only about the efficacy of the Hawkeye. Off-spinner Graeme Swann has a ready excuse if he can’t reverse the decisions going upstairs.

Then just ahead of the series there is a move to put India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoini under pressure for his remarks on umpiring in the West Indies. The Indian skipper could have done without going public on the issue and used the oft-repeated line by a lot of captains, that everyone has seen what had happened and he need not say anything!

Every umpiring decision in the upcoming series will be dissected by both the protagonists and antagonists of the DRS.

It is a series that is going to keep Test cricket alive. You don’t need a timeless Test to decide the championship. The four Tests will see the world’s best batting line-up taking on what is touted as the best pace attack plus the world’s best off-spinner.

India’s pace attack, spearheaded by Zaheer Khan, is no less potent even if Harbhajan’s strike rate has not matched Swann’s in the last couple of years. At the end of it, it is the team that can take 20 wickets more than once that will deserve to be at the top of the heap. Whatever be the outcome, it is a series that can stand out if the captains do not kill it.

(20-07-2011 – Veturi Srivatsa can be contacted at [email protected])