A mixed year for the Indian team
Partab Ramchand - 26 December 2001
When the eventful years of Indian cricket are listed by future historians, there is little doubt that 2001 will rank very high. It was a year of ups and downs, of victories at home and defeats abroad. So on the face of it, 2001 would not seem to be any different from other years. But arguably, the greatest home series victory in the history of Indian cricket was notched up and at least for this achievement, it will always remain a special year, the successive defeats away from home notwithstanding.
As the year started, the Indians had a few encouraging aspects to look back on unexpectedly making the final of the ICC KnockOut tournament at Nairobi, a nine-wicket victory with a day to spare against Test debutants Bangladesh in Dhaka and a series victory, in both Tests and one-day internationals, over Zimbabwe. But the big test was ahead a series against Australia. Even granting the home advantage, few gave India any chance of upsetting the mighty Australians though the visitors had not won a Test series in this country since 1969-70.
India’s feat also ended Australia’s record-breaking run of 16 straight victories and generated tremendous interest in the final Test at Chennai. In keeping with the trend of the series, which was marked by some great cricket, the decider too was a thriller with India emerging triumphant by two wickets. Harbhajan was the star with 15 wickets in the Test, finishing with 32 wickets for the series. Sourav Ganguly, for his part, was given due credit for being a no nonsense, aggressive captain. That the Indians won the series without the services of Kumble, who was injured in October 2000 and did not play till the tour of South Africa was all the more creditable.
In the wake of this incredible triumph, much was expected from the Indian team. Unfortunately the next three major engagements were away from home and given the woeful record abroad, it was perhaps no surprise that India went from one debacle to another. They pulled off the rare away victory by defeating Zimbabwe in the first Test but the home team drew level by taking the second and final Test. The next stop was Sri Lanka and here again the Indians flattered to deceive.
Speaking of one-day internationals, India had to endure a disappointing year. Their irritating habit of stumbling at the final hurdle continued for another year, as evidenced by results in Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and South Africa. They were also gallant losers to Australia 3-2 in the one- day competition that followed the epic Test series.
However, by the end of the year, some of the problems that plagued Indian cricket at the start of it seemed to have been solved. The seam attack had a promising look about it. With the sudden arrival of many young pace bowling hopefuls symbolised by the debut of three new ball bowlers for the Mohali Test against England there seems to be an embarrassment of riches. The fact that Srinath, at 32, still retains a lot of fire, that Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra are still around and that a new discovery has been made in Tinu Yohannan are all signs that augur well for Indian cricket. The spin department is in good hands with Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble bowling in tandem and with Sarandeep Singh waiting in the wings. The vexed wicket-keeping problem too seems to have been solved with the emergence of Deep Dasgupta. There is scope for improvement in his work behind the stumps but he could be persevered with, not the least because of his batting.
And speaking of batting, one more of Indian cricket’s perennial problem, the lack of openers, had hopefully been solved. Indeed, there suddenly seemed to be a problem of plenty with Dasgupta and Das seemingly well- entrenched as the opening pair with Connor Williams and Sadagoppan Ramesh waiting in the wings. The middle-order batting remains the main strength of the side, though admittedly the protagonists should perform in keeping with their reputation. The discovery of Virender Sehwag was a major plus and towards the end of the year, Kumble gave fans something to cheer by becoming only the second Indian bowler to take 300 Test wickets. As for Tendulkar, crossing landmarks is routine, but becoming the first to cross the 10,000-run mark in one-day internationals was something special, even for him.
Ganguly and coach John Wright, like the team, had a mixed year. But there is no doubt that both should stay for another year at least before a final judgment could be made and a decision taken either way. That would only be fair to them. So with all this, why are the Indian team still tigers at home and lambs abroad. Ah, well, that is part of a deeper malaise, which would require the services of a psychoanalyst.