Vantage point

Friday, May 19, 2006

Will The Worm Turn?

Like any Indian cricket fan, I want the team to win the test series in West Indies. The last "worm-turning" for the Indian cricket team happened on our last tour of the West Indies in 2001-02. For over 15 years, the Indian team had not won a single test match (forget series) outside the subcontinent, except in minnow-land Zimbabwe. Most teams don't travel well, but not winning a single test match is shameful. Those were the low standards prevalent in Indian cricket those days.

This drought of test match victories at respectable venues ended with a win in Port of Spain. We lost the series of course, and heartbreakingly so, but it was a baby step for Ganguly's men. Later the team would win tests and draw tests series in England and Australia. And conquer the only corner of the subcontinent they hadn't been able to beat - Pakistan.

Since then India has had a tough time in tests. It was thrashed by the visiting Australians, held to embarrassing draws by obviously weaker Pakistani and English units, and beaten narrowly in Pakistan. There only-face saving series was the thrashing of Sri Lanka in India. It was the first time a full-strength Indian team was facing the post-doosra-Murali and the efficiency with which the Lankans were taken apart was heartening.

The Indian team is now in the next stage. Having moved from a good-player-bad-captain to a match-fixer-captain to an out-of-form-player-good-captain to a great-player-good-captain, the team is ready for its break-out moment. Most of the middle order and the bowling line-up is now experienced and yet youthful. The time has come for India to register a test series win abroad.

What started in the West Indies last time, continued in England, Australia and Pakistan. A more amplified start this time round may even lead to more amplified successes.

Dravid does have his hands full at the moment though. Tendulkar's fitness is looking suspect, and Sehwag is still looking a bit suspect. Chappell's insistence on the five-bowler combination puts extra pressure on the batting line-up and his dislike for Laxman sees Yuvraj being chosen packing the middle-and-lower order with inexperience. The bowling line-up does not look threatening, though the pacemen do perform well with kookaburra balls. The indifferent quality of the seamers would also make Dravid and Chappell wonder whether to go in with a solitary spinner or two.

There is some good news too though. Dravid himself is in fine form, as is the dangerous Dhoni who can change the game within a session. Pathan's batting has improved exponentially, and his bowling is fairly consistent too. And yes, India finally have a genuine quick bowler in Munaf.

Marshalled well, the team could make the worm turn. Let's get this irritating matter of ODIs out of the way first.