Game Set Match and Goal
Ahh...the series finally over, I can let out a sigh of relief. The biggest relief, though, isn't that we won the Jamaica test and with it, our first series outside subcontinent in 20 years. It is that I won't have to endure that commentary team anymore! That by the time it ended, even Dujon, the most biased commentator I have ever come across, was stating that ther result shows which team has played the dominant game throughout the series, and add to it Lara's closing comments that he's proud that the final result wasn't 0-3, shows that we did a good job.
For me, this series was all about getting back, slowly but surely, to where we belong in the test arena. Although we actually lost only 1 series (and 2 tests) this season, it was the manner in which we were playing our game, the team strategies, the combinations, the tactics etc, that were showing a constant slide from the once more-than-justified claim of catching up with the Aussie juggernaut. Now, with this series, atleast for me it has all been about the positives. The manner in which we played out game, most of the players showed improvement from where they were at the start of the series. That doesn't necessarily mean all of them are at a point that justifies their potential, or even puts their position in the national squad beyond question marks, or that even the team, on the whole, is at a level to be completely satisfied with. It's just the improvement from their recent past that I talk of.
Here's a more detailed attempt to look at the players, in the order of 'improvement' they have shown in the series:
SreeSanth: Playing in only his second test series, and only his 3rd test, he had a horror outing in the first innings at Antigua. He showed great composure, since then, to come back and be the big-strike bowler for India, not only taking wickets but the crucial ones at that. Producing unplayable deliveries regularly. That he, along with Munaf, turned out better show than the much more experienced (and supposedly much more hostile) WI pacers, and that too against a batting lineup which, for once, was supposedly better than Indians (yeah, surprisingly, many *fans* missed the point that *this* WI batting lineup has more runs and more experience coming into the series than the Indians minus Sachin and Saurav), was the biggest improvement of the series.
Virendra Sehwag: Showed good signs of getting over the much-advertised weaknesses. He fell short of his openly declared goal of atleast 1 ODI and 2 test centuries for the series, but he came close. And that itself was a huge improvement from his struggles of recent times. His next hurdle, the test series in SA, would be the right time for him to step forward into the zone of potential test 'greatness'..otherwise, he would still remain a good player, just as many others are around with known flaws, physical or mental.
Wasim Jaffer: He consistently proved to be an opener who was more than 'Sehwag's partner' in the squad. If we are to fulfill that aim of being consistently better outside home conditions, then ultimately 5 bowlers would be needed sooner or later. And for that to happen, we need each of our 5 specialist batsmen to be capable of getting big scores. Jaffer provides that option. Ofcourse he has as many technical deficiencies as some of his predecessors, but atleast he has a temperament greater than most others in this lineup. How else would one explain the fact that one would struggle to remember the last time a non-Sehwag Indian opener made big runs (and not against the BD or ZIM). Another good test series from him in SA would surely seal that spot in the Indian lineup for some time to come.
Dhoni: Not for his batting, but for his keeping, he's up there in the improvement list. I wrote about it earlier also, his keeping has been more than satisfactory this series, with occasional flashes of brilliance as well. The fact that he's still learning how to keep to toughies like Kumble and Bhajji is heartening, because the results are already good. That is not to say that his batting is not an asset (for those pining for Karthick or Patel...do remember than he has made significant contributions with the bat in all the test series. Sure, those were probably not in terrible conditions, but then again, I'm sure the others before him got gentler conditions as well?). As I wrote earlier, he's not a Gilchrist yet, and therefore the five bowler theory would have to wait, if we don't get the all round capabilties of Pathan back, but he's more than handy with the bat, and in certain conditions, acts as the one who can set up the match for us.
Anil Kumble: Not for his bowling, for we are all well aware of what he brings to the table in that department. His batting this series has been a revelation (infact, it started with last series against England) and this, if not his bowling alone, should give him a license-to-play in our test squad for a long long time to come.
Munaf Patel: Good news, especially for those who didn't watch this game, is that he, and not Taylor, was the quickest bowler in the match. He often touched 145k (144.9, to be precise) and was in 140s for significant periods in the first innings. That, combined with his accuracy and ability to keep bending his back, means that like Kumble, atleast one test bowling spot is filled up for a long time to come.
Kaif: He comes in next despite a few failures, because he played to his potential, and even took the next big step of getting big runs in tests, not just showing glimpses of his abilities. He may not be the technicaly perfect batsman we are looking for our test lineup, but atleast he makes good use of the chances he gets. And I don't see many others pushing hard enough for him to be out of reckoning yet.
Laxman and Bhajji: Some heavenly force seems to have tied the fate of these two 'former' test greats since that unforgettable series. Both showed enough signs of improvement since their earlier performances in the season, but both are still way below their best. And yet, both showed enough signs to be persisted with. Enough indicators that they still have a lot to contribute towards Indian test victories. Both had chances of taking that next step (Laxman in 2nd innings of last test, and Bhajji yesterday) to becoming the matchwinners again too. For those looking into finer details, VVS, for me, has shown better test nerves than Yuvraj, and should be ahead of him in the roll-call, when Sachin returns. But then, there's a lot of time between now and our next test series, and Yuvraj atleast would get a lot of action till that time.
Yuvraj: His performance was not on decline. Not by my understanding atleast. And that is because he had already disappointed me with his test performances since the Karachi impression. And especially so because all along, he has shown signs of good (even great) ODI form. And I have no doubt he would be once again our main ODI matchwinner in the coming challenges. That, to me, seems to be the case of not being able to construct test innings. Ofcourse it is easy to forget that he is very very young to this business of 'constructing' the innings. Compare his 18 test innings with that of, lets say, a Bravo, who is talked of in such high esteem as one of the potential future stars. For all his talent, he hasn't shown an iota more application than Yuvraj. So, more chances to come Yuvraj's way, no doubt. But we need a good 'meaningful' contribution from him fast.
Pathan: Has been a case of exhaustion, as I gather from various sources. It was, for me, the right move to rest him, and going by his body language in the dressing room throughout the series (and especially in the winning moments yesterday) he clearly seems to be enjoying the break. There's atleast another month or so of rest for him. And in any case, his ODI capabilties were not under that much of a scanner. So, one must wait for the SA tests (and hope he's not once again overburdened in the coming hectic ODI season since August onwards) to know his test status. As things stand today, he can get a test spot back only if he regains decent bowling rhythm along with his normal batting touch, and played as the fifth bowler.
That leaves Rahul Dravid, the test batsman. As I wrote earlier in this series, he had undoubtedly been burdened, throughout this test season, with not just captaincy, but also by the lack of form of his colleagues. Which meant he had to play with that much more responsibility, this affecting his big scoring abilities to a large extent. In this series, his batting lineup offered him some relief, and he blossomed again. To the extent that he averaged 70 in the final match, in conditions where most struggled to put bat to ball. What more can one say...he was awarded the man of the match, man of the series..and if someone out there had the authority, would have given him the Bharat Ratna as well :-)
As to Rahul the captain, well...he has some way to go. There are surely areas of improvement, but the best thing is that he has clear plans, and for me most of those are with the right intentions. At many times, those plans have not been executed well...sometimes due to lack of abilties of those given the responsibility, and at times due to a lack of quick-thinking 'on the feet' during the match situations. But, I repeat, its really heartening to see India having right strategies even in desperate situations, and sticking to their plans to come out of it. That happend twice during the test series here (and even earlier against England)...which is a welcome change from the times where we either got into good positions right from the beginning, to win...or else pretty much gave up. That, to me, has been the biggest positive from this series...something which when combined with close-to-perfect form of most of the individuals would surely reap handsome rewards in times to come.
Finally, one word on the great 2-3-4 spot tussle between England, Pakistan and India. For me, not going by the ICC rankings, this series has again broken the fight open all three ways. And this especially because not only did we win the series, but we also didn't lose any matches. And do note, that I don't take missing players, bad umpirings, draws-due-to-rain etc into account....simply because they complicate things beyond control. E.g. yes Eng is missing key players, but some of them may not return for a while (or maybe never) and yet their home loss to SL was bad. Yes Pakistan lost a game in WI because they missed Inzy...but that, again, is the case with many such results. We missed Sachin here, missed Rahul and Veeru at different points in the series against SL...or had 2 draws here due to rain and umpiring etc etc. So...as you can see...those factors make matters too complicated.
Anyway, current situation being, Pak is touring England. And based on current standings (IMO) and potential resources available to both, only a Pak series victory can push them ahead of England (and us). Otherwise, the three-way tussle would continue.
And yeah...finally...a chance to concentrate on the Wimbledon and football WC.....time to catch up with my favourites Agassi and Argentina. Umm...what did you say..??
p.s. This also marks an end to my association with 24x7. Was great being here, and I thank Jagadish and Ganesh for the great opportunity. So long...and see you back at my regular haunt..SightScreen.
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