One of the joys of being a former player, is to be able to witness the new generation play extraordinary cricket and win matches in difficult circumstances, especially overseas and that too outside the subcontinent. Indiaís win in the Leeds Test falls into that category and it made all us old codgersí hearts swell with pride to see the way in which the team made light of the conditions which were ranged against them. That is what makes Test cricket so special and why it is called so, for it is not just a test of skills but also of temperament.
On the first day of the Test both these attributes were tested to the fullest. It was grey and overcast with dampness in the air and under the pitch as well. The situations called for steely temperament, guts, determination, application and conservative shot selection.
To see the manner in which Bangar and Dravid got resolutely and stoutly behind the ball, took the blows on various parts of the body and numbing finger crunches against the bat handle was to see all the above attributes in action.
It wasnít exciting cricket for those brought up on a diet of limited overs stuff but to the connoisseurs it was riveting. The judgement of which ball to play and which to leave was fascinating to watch. To a great extent Englandís bowlers also helped by bowling wide off the stumps. When England won the first Test at Lordís there was a lot of talk of how Englandís tactics of bowling wide had frustrated the Indian batsmen especially Tendulkar who was dismissed playing at a widish delivery and Hussain was praised for his strategy.
This very same strategy worked against England for if only their bowlers had been more accurate and on target they may well have dismissed India in the first day itself. But in the first couple of hours till lunch the batsmen did not have to play too many deliveries and even though the conditions remained the same throughout the day the bowlers tired and the ball became softer after tea.
The value of the BangarDravid partnership can thus never be overstated for it not only built a platform for the later batsmen but also rode the storm when it was at its worst. Not for one moment is this to suggest that the later batsmen would not have handled the conditions if either of the BangarDravid duo was out early but even those who came to bat later would themselves agree that the partnership did make life easier for them. Rahul Dravid made one of the best Test centuries in his career and Tendulkar too had to bring all his expertise into play before getting into his strokemaking stride.
This was a game that Sourav Ganguly is entitled to be extremely proud of for a variety of reasons. Firstly for his brave decision to bat first in those conditions, secondly for the manner in which his batsmen applied themselves in those testing conditions and thirdly, for the selfless way in which he opted to carry on batting in the terrible light when he was himself in sight of a century and then to crown it by going for the big hits so that India could have enough runs on the board for a declaration early the next morning.
These leadership qualities make him the best Indian captain even though there will be many who will jump up and down in protest against this.
The maturity that he has shown over the years has to be taken into account and if the Indian media forgets its personal likes and dislikes, then they will acknowledge his qualities as well. To the Indian media the fact that he asked his players to be available for interviews only before and after a Test was not acceptable but all that he was trying to do was to ensure his players stay focussed and did not inadvertently create a controversy that would distract the team from its game.
Not every member of the team could express himself clearly even in his native language and there is always the possibility of him being misunderstood and mistaken and thus create an unnecessary and needless controversy. That however was a couple of years ago and now the players are available to the media when they do well on the day so surely it is time for the media to forget the past and look ahead and give credit where itís due. Ganguly should also be complimented for remembering the coach and the physical trainers in his after victory interviews to TV for truly this was a team effort of the highest order.
The victory would have been ever sweeter for Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh for though they have bowled India to victories at home this was one of the rare victories abroad. In Kumbleís case it was his first victory as he was dropped in Trinidad and was unavailable because of injury against Zimbabwe last year.
He was not just a member of a winning team here but made an invaluable contribution by picking wickets on a pitch that wasnít exactly spinner friendly. The two deliveries that gave the knockout punch to any English resistance on the last day were the ones that got rid of Hussain and his most experienced player Alec Stewart and paved the way to an early victory.
It was this all round effort and contribution from every member of the team that was so heart warming and gives rise to optimism that this win would be the harbinger for many more such victories. ĎOne swallow does not a summer makeí is an old saying but, though England in spite of its recent improvement is not exactly a top team, this Leeds win does give lots of scope for optimism that this is not another false dawn in Indian cricket.
The next few days will either confirm or debunk this optimism. Letís keep our fingers crossed and wait and see.