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Process, now respectable- Class of 2009 makes history

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By LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
  • Published 7.12.09
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Coach Gary Kirsten

Calcutta: Sure, the winning moment was special, but three more stood out, at the Brabourne, on Sunday.

When Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in a terrific show of reflexes, collected a stump to be treasured as a souvenir... When Gary Kirsten actually smiled... When Sachin Tendulkar behaved like an over-the-moon debutant instead of one who’d seen ups and downs for over 20 years...

Lots changed for Indian cricket at 10.05 am, as 77 years after C.K.Nayudu’s men got thrashed by England, in our debut Test, Dhoni and Co. reached the summit — achieving the No.1 position in the International Cricket Council rankings.

Only those standings count.

Clearly, Sunday also signalled the acceptance of “process” as a perfectly respectable word in Indian cricket. It had been abhorred during the 23 months of Greg Chappell’s tenure as coach.

When Chappell talked of “process,” it would be seen as a means of keeping Sourav Ganguly out of the dressing room and getting Sachin to bat down the order in ODIs, instead of opening the innings.

Kirsten, Chappell’s full-time successor, did away with a lot of things fancied by the Australian legend. However, he kept faith in the basic principles of any “process” and wasn’t wary of saying so in public.

Back in March 2008, when Kirsten took charge, we were No.2 in Tests (a massive 30 points behind Australia) and No.4 in ODIs (14 adrift of the top team, South Africa).

Today, in Tests, Dhoni’s men are two points clear of South Africa. In ODIs, they’re placed at No.2, eight points behind Australia. In September, we’d briefly been at the summit.

Obviously, the presence of cool heads in key positions — Dhoni, the captain, and coach Kirsten — has played a significant role in the rise of this team. Other factors have been at play, too.

For one, the blossoming of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir as openers par excellence. Then, the increase in the skills level of a Zaheer Khan, who has begun to regularly use the bouncer as a weapon of destruction. Also, at different times, contributions from Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha, who’ve been vying for the berth vacated by Anil Kumble.

That three (Sachin, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman) of the Fab Four continue to keep the scorers busy in a big way just can’t be overlooked either.

As remarkable as Team India’s climb has been the captain’s career. Dhoni hasn’t even completed five years as an India cricketer, but almost everything that he touches has been turning to gold.

No wonder, many envy the one-time Railways employee from Ranchi.

Except Sreesanth, Murali Vijay and Ojha, the others in the XI which scripted history played under Sourav, who injected steel and more. Later, Kumble did his bit to enhance the team’s character and strengthened its values.

Dhoni, therefore, largely inherited a team which was solid on a lot of fronts and didn’t lack ambition. If anything, it needed to become consistent and, as important, remain faithful to the “process” put in place by Kirsten.

It did.

Quite appropriately, then, Dhoni saluted his men for a “great team effort.” Sehwag was a standout performer in the final Test, but almost everybody had something to show in the first two.

Incidentally, giving the players enough space to be themselves, but following a strong work ethic, is part of the “process” which bears the former South African opener’s signature.

Paddy Upton, the mental conditioning expert hand-picked by Kirsten, enjoys the players’ trust. Chappell’s man Ian Frazer, who had a somewhat different role, often used to be treated with suspicion.

Internally, such things do make a difference.

South Africa’s reign at the top has ended rather quickly — in less than four months. Perhaps fearing that, coach Mickey Arthur had told The Telegraph that staying rooted at the summit would really be their “biggest challenge.”

That holds true for Dhoni and the rest as well.

Footnote: Surely, the No.1 team needs to be playing much more than five Tests in a year, as seen in 2009... The next (two-match) series will, by the way, be in neighbouring Bangladesh in January.