You don’t have to focus hard to become aware of the din that brands India’s two-Test series in South Africa as the true test of the squad. There is an unbridled eagerness in conversations that place great emphasis on assessing the Indian team on how well – or, poorly – it does in the ensuing Test series in South Africa.The conversationalists seem to forget that India has won but two of the 15 Tests in South Africa – first by 123 runs in Johannesburg in December 2006 and then by 87 runs in Durban in December 2010. And, we seem to gloss over the fact that Indian teams have lost seven Tests since touring the Rainbow Nation first in 1992-93.
We must not forget that India had barely won a dozen overseas Tests between 1932 and the year 2000. More importantly, we must remember that Indian teams started to travel well only since Sourav Ganguly took over as captain at the turn of the millennium – India has won 24 overseas Tests in the last 14 years.
In that time, batsmen like Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Ganguly himself had learnt to stamp their presence around the reassuring Sachin Tendulkar. More importantly, Indian bowlers also started believing that they could take 20 wickets to help the team win Tests overseas.
The point I am making is simple: teams take time coming together as competitive units, especially in alien conditions. England’s current problems in Australia are manifesting themselves despite the squad – at least the bulk of it – having been together for some years now.
The nature of Test teams, unlike their World Cup playing counterparts, is that they will always be work in progress. The domination of great teams like the West Indies of the late 70s and 80s and the Australian teams of the 90s and the first decade of the 21st century have all come unstuck at some point of time.
To revert to the current Indian side, it will be the first time that it will be playing a Test without any of the golden quintet – Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman and Ganguly – in its ranks. To expect Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohil and Rohit Sharma to be readymade replacements for these batsmen will be a mistake.
Yet, as Dravid said during a book launch in Delhi last month, contemporary players have had more opportunity to travel to South Africa than cricketers of his generation. They perhaps will be more aware of the challenges that lie in store – and hopefully in a greater state of preparedness for the series. For all that, it will help not to impose more pressure on these batsmen by suggesting that this series is their only true test.
Of course, India’s series victories at home against Australia and the West Indies cannot be discounted as trivial or irrelevant. If India wins in South Africa, let us not rush to raise the team to the skies. And, if the side comes back defeated, we must not fall over one another to berate the squad.
For the moment, let us sit back and enjoy the prospect of some good cricket.