Score: India 2-1 England
A single day of cricket at two corners of the world has changed everything. While the India v/s England ODI was on at Ranchi- in Dhoni’s very own backyard- South Africa conspired to lose to a weak New Zealand team in a manner that, believe it or not, put India on top of the world. Literally.
Team India is, as we speak, the top-ranked ODI team in the world while heading to Mohali to play the 4th ODI, 2-1 up in the series. Rub your eyes in astonishment, but that’s how it is. To be fair, ODI cricket is at a place where there is clearly no single dominating team in world cricket. Gone are the days of Australia. Pakistan- that often comes close to being that on recent consistent performances- does not play enough cricket to be ranked among the top teams. So it is always down to South Africa, India and England lately, and with all 3 of them in action simultaneously, it comes down to a single loss or win that could play havoc with the meaningless rankings.
As it stands, Mahendra Singh Dhoni came to Ranchi- where he is nothing less than a living legend- and led his team to a crushing victory that propelled them to the top of the world for the first time since 2008. For him, that could be second to only winning his World Cups and titles- because he ended the day knowing that as ridiculous as it sounds- he had achieved another feather in his bare cap.
And even if it may last just a few weeks, that’s what the record books will say. Ironically, amidst the ruins and rubble of modern Indian cricket, after losing a 3-match home series to Pakistan, the 4th ODI between India and England will begin with no. 1 playing no. 2- like an unofficial championship of sorts.
The ODI itself bore signs of anything but the top teams in international cricket battling it out. It ended up as yet another one-sided game, where England are finally playing like they were expected to in the sub-continent (thanks largely to the missing stabilizing factor of Jonathan Trott). India, meanwhile, are living in a world where they think that they seem to have found the perfect balance in their playing 11.
If that’s the case, the management should seriously consider sending back Pujara and Rohit to their Ranji teams- with Saurashtra and Mumbai reaching the final. 2013 brings the disturbing reality of Jadeja being the preferred Saurashtra player through all formats, with his bowling providing the stability that frontline spinners like Ashwin cannot.
…but we ordered Fish and chips.
The reality is that England has won just 2 of their last 21 ODIs in India, and beating them once again cannot a false dawn make. India’s ODI team is far from stable- with Rahane not utilizing his opportunities at the top of the order, and Gambhir looking as out-of-sorts as ever. With Kohli striking form in a simple chase, and Jadeja in the running for a man-of-the-series trophy, the beginning of the new season could not be more bizarre.
But as long as India manages a win or three, atleast for the time being, changes will be avoided. A series win sealed by a win at Mohali in seaming conditions may not undo the hurt of the last 18 months- but it could bring Dhoni to realize that the best thing about the last fortnight hasn’t been his pet Chennai SuperKings teammates, but the efforts of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Shammi Ahmed that have made the last two wins more possible than probable.