They demand respect
The Indians have finally accumulated a group of fast bowlers that allow them to compete anywhere in world cricket.
There was good news and bad news to come from India's demolition job of South Africa in a lop-sided series whitewash. First the good news. India have added a new dimension to its game with the fast bowlers - even minus Jasprit Bumrah - playing a huge part in a home victory. After years of planning and the advent of numerous academies, India have finally accumulated a group of fast bowlers that allow them to compete anywhere in the cricket world.
Bumrah when fit, the indefatigable Mohammad Shami, the vastly improved Ishant Sharma and the pacey Umesh Yadav, give India a quartet of fast bowlers that demand respect in all conditions. These pace spearheads, added to India's always capable spinners, give the attack a potency that not too many other countries can match.
Slot a fit seam bowling allrounder in Hardik Pandya into that group and India is more than adequately placed to cope with any conditions they encounter. A well-balanced bowling attack is the perfect antidote to any attempt to provide conditions that heavily favour the home side.
In the series against South Africa, India's strong batting line-up even took a step forward with the advent of Rohit Sharma's successful transition to opening. Where most Test teams are desperately seeking capable batsmen, India now has a surplus of talent that makes them the envy of the cricket world. It was always only a matter of when India got its act together — in particular concerning selection — before they became a true powerhouse in the game.
With an enormous talent pool, young players gaining experience from mixing with international stars in the IPL and the right selections, India should remain a powerful opponent for the indefinite future. The other factor in India's ascent has been the shining example set by skipper Virat Kohli. Always a player who wanted to perform well in all conditions, Kohli's desire for excellence has rubbed off on his teammates and the whole side has the common goal of wanting to be the best.
At series end Kohli provided a telling quote: "We've wanted to be the best team in Test cricket. As long as we keep working with honest intent, those things will follow." As well as a being an excellent cricketer, Kohli is also a smart one and that phrase "honest intent" should be a wake-up call to other Test nations. That is where the bad news kicks in; the overall standard of play in Test cricket.
South Africa's demise is ominous for the Test match version of the game. Test cricket is a great format but only if the teams are competitive. Test cricket relies heavily on a good contest to be entertaining and exciting.
Recent contests like India's triumph in Australia and the enthralling Ashes series will keep patrons fascinated by the game. However, a plethora of lop-sided series or boring batting exhibitions have little appeal as a contest and will quickly lose favour with the fans.
If South Africa's slide is a long-term affliction — and judging by their batting in India this could well be the case — then that leaves three teams, India, Australia and England in the strong category, with New Zealand just below that standard.
The rest of the Test teams have a lot of ground to make up in order to be regarded as strong performers in all conditions. This is far from ideal when Test cricket already has many challenges in trying to attract fans to stadiums.
Pacy Top 3
The common thread between the three strong nations is a robust first-class competition which ensures a pipeline that continues to provide good players, with the odd star performer.
If Test cricket is to be a viable part of the game's future, the standard of play needs to remain high. Whilst it's true India - with a large talent pool, unlimited finances and the IPL - has a huge advantage, it's their attitude to achieving excellence that should be copied by any team with an ambition to be the best.
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