Good news for Test cricket
There was a time when breaking into the United States market was paramount for pop stars to hit the big time. Today, Chinese tastes are influencing what kind of blockbusters Hollywood churns out.
Why? Because the bigger the market, the bigger the influence of the market.
Nearly three decades after cricket’s epicentre moved eastwards, Indian audiences continue to wield power over the sport.
For instance, one-day internationals faced an existential threat for much of the first decade of this century until India won the World Cup in 2011, which arguably helped renew an interest in this format among the masses.
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Test cricket may have received a similar stimulus following India's first-ever series victory in Australia on Monday. Captain Virat Kohli even made remarks bigging up the long form.
“We definitely want to build on this [series win] and always promote the message of Test cricket being the most important and the most valued format of the game, which it rightfully is,” Kohli said. "From where I see it, this is our vision for Indian cricket."
The last line will come as music to the purists’ ears.
Other captains, such as South Africa's Faf du Plessis, have also underscored the importance of Tests – all of which bodes well for the near-term health of the five-day game.
Putting India’s win into perspective
The question being asked even before India landed in Australia was whether they would leave an asterisk, in a manner of speaking, against a probable away series win. After all, Australia were without their two most influential players – the suspended Steve Smith and David Warner.
It seems unfair to take anything away from India’s win, given that you can only play what’s in front of you. The fact is India won Down Under for the first time, and that will show in the record books for as long as record books are maintained.
So, rather than dwell on the “what ifs”, it would be more pertinent to ask whether this was India’s best series on Australian soil. There is an argument to be made that the 1977/78 and 2003/04 tours were more evenly contested and will, therefore, stand out more prominently in the memories of those who watched them.
After a cracking start, the 2018/19 series ended tepidly. A below-par Australia side’s morale was shot to pieces in Melbourne and rain killed the chance of a result in Sydney.
All about the ‘big mo’
India have been here before.
Sourav Ganguly’s men used the momentum from their NatWest series win against England in 2002 to reach the final of the World Cup the following year. They forced a mighty Australian side to a 1-1 Test series draw after which they beat Pakistan away in Tests and ODIs.
But India ran out of steam by mid-2004, and by the second half of 2005, Ganguly lost both the captaincy and his place in the line-up.
Six years later, MS Dhoni’s side were crowned the No 1 Test team, lifted the World Cup and won a Test series in the West Indies. Those heady few weeks were followed by a run of forgettable results, including 4-0 drubbings in England and Australia. Dhoni kept his job but the team saw its biggest shake-up in recent times.
History rhymes even if it doesn’t repeat itself and Kohli’s India must be careful not to lose the momentum they have gathered with victory in Australia.
The good thing is that even though they lack the star power of previous sides, they seem to be far more ruthless. The players are used to winning – whether it is for India or their respective Indian Premier League teams. And with the World Cup just five months away, it is hard to imagine any one of them getting distracted.
That said, there is a lot of cricket to be played between now and May, and it is important for the management to strike a balance between resting players and ensuring the team maintain momentum.
Pujara his own man
Cheteshwar Pujara has proved to be cricket’s great outlier.
He does not represent India in limited-overs cricket nor does he play in the IPL. He lacks flair as well as the ridiculous strike-rates needed to make an impact in the shorter formats. That he does not run quickly between the wicket also counts against him.
Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri have often run Pujara down, criticising his inability to up the ante and dropping him four times from the Test XI during their reign. But even though the trust deficit affected his output, Pujara refused to make wholesale changes to his game.
He continued to do what he does best, which is to wear down bowling attacks to make it easier for the batsmen after him to pile up big scores.
In Australia, he spent 31 hours and eight minutes at the wicket, faced 1,258 balls and scored 521 runs. He was named Man of the Series for his efforts.
In the process, he also made himself undroppable.
Shastri’s fight unnecessary
Another person feeling vindicated is Shastri. He faced plenty of criticism for India’s bittersweet tours of South Africa and England last year. His role in the team was also questioned, with some calling him Kohli’s "yes man".
But rather than drawing a line in the sand, he showed his bitter side to the media on Monday. Among other things, he said the negative comments made about him from “miles away” had been blown away by the wind like – wait for it – a “tracer bullet”.
The former all-rounder was alluding to his once teammate and fellow TV commentator Sunil Gavaskar’s on-air remark in Sydney that India had won the series thanks in part to “a wake-up call” from critics back home after their second Test defeat in Perth.
“And how did that wake-up call come? Because of the blanks being fired from thousands of miles away,” Gavaskar said. “The blanks made the noise that woke this team up.”
Shastri could have taken the moral high ground and stayed away from making controversial statements on a happy day for him and his team. Instead, he reminded the public of his combative nature, tarring his reputation even more.
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