I don’t think India will regain the Number 1 spot in Test rankings in 2012. I think England will stay Number 1 for a while. As an Englishman who grew up watching his team lose, lose and lose some more in the 1980s, these words seem unnatural, sacrilegious even.
When any good team gets beaten like India were in England, you hope that it acts like a spur to improve. And it did. India played very well against England in the One Day Internationals in India, and has also done very well against a slowly-improving West Indies in the Test matches.
If it had been a young team being whitewashed 4-0, you might worry that it could have some long-term impact on their confidence, but that wasn’t the case.
This team has been able to move on very quickly. But its first major setback will test how strong that recovery is. I felt India suffered in England from an emotional come-down after their World Cup win — no triumph is likely to match that achievement for a very long time. England seemed to have a similar problem after their momentous and wildly-celebrated 2005 Ashes win.
What that disastrous tour has done is set up England’s tour of India in a year’s time very well. The current England team hasn’t won in Asia and will want to prove itself, whilst India will want revenge. It should be a great Test series.
India needs to start finding a new generation of players to replace the great ones who are getting older. Or it needs to find an elixir of eternal youth and start secretly putting it into the breakfasts of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S. Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan every morning — which might be easier.
Right now, England looks to be the best Test nation after playing spectacularly effective cricket for the past 12 months. Also, they have the best squad of pace bowlers.
India’s new pace bowlers will need to come close to the standards England have set. With a series in Australia, then England at home, the next 12 months are a massive test for India.
Then there’s South Africa. They are a funny side: They look good on paper, go up in a series, often looking totally dominant, and then they lose. Something seems to be wrong with them, they are not maximising their talents at the moment.
They have stronger pace bowling than India and Australia, but there’s a fragility to them in both Tests and one-dayers.
Australia is in transition, and have been playing wildly inconsistent for a long time. They seem to have unearthed highly promising fast bowlers in [Pat] Cummins and [James] Pattison.
I think India will certainly play better than they did against England. As will Australia.
If they both play as badly as they did against England, it will be a very strange series. I predict another drawn series.
Regaining the Number 1 spot as they adopt a new generation of players will take some time. This is my five point plan for India to regain its Number 1 spot: Five-point plan
1. India needs at least two effective fast bowlers. Zaheer Khan has carried them for a few years and he’s clearly not going to do it for much longer consistently. Younger bowlers need to be more effective, for longer. Too many have failed to build on promising starts. The next generation of batsmen will, almost certainly, be less good than the current swathe of Indian greats, so the bowling will have to be stronger than when India last ascended to the Number 1 ranking in Tests.
2. They need at least one world-class spinner. [Ravichandran] Ashwin may prove to be that, but sterner tests than West Indies await.
3. The fielding needs to improve. That will be difficult to achieve in a team with so many players in their late thirties, unless the BCCI ploughs more of its considerable resources into that elusive elixir of youth.
4. They need to maintain and support the importance of Test cricket in India. Right now, cricket is dominated by the IPL [Indian Premier League], and obviously a difficult commercial balance must be struck. I do not think it has been struck yet. I think most — almost all, perhaps — cricket fans want Test cricket to retain its pre-eminence. But money talks. Annoyingly loudly. For India, the home of T20, to dominate Test cricket, players and administrators must make it their top priority, as it is in England.
5. They need a really effective five-point plan.
A British comedian and author, Andy Zaltzman is a huge cricket fan. He blogs for Cricinfo.com and regularly hosts cricket shows.
(As told to Abhishek Raghunath)