India is now the top ranked side in world cricket, ending Pakistan's brief reign at the top of the rankings table. It was only 13 days ago that Pakistan skipper Misbah ul-Haq accepted the mace representing the number one team in the world.
But it's all very murky, because the system that is used to decide who is the best Test team is itself so muddled. Unlike other sports where you have a league and each team plays others home and away, Test cricket makes the whole thing look like it was designed by an excited toddler who has eaten too many sugary snacks.
Not every team plays every other team. India has not played Pakistan in a Test since late 2007; England hasn't played Zimbabwe in a Test since 2003. In fact, Zimbabwe had played so few Tests that until they hosted New Zealand last month, they had dropped off the rankings table altogether. Even when teams do play each other home and away, they don't all play the same number of matches. Sometimes, it is two Tests, some times it is five, sometimes it is somewhere in between.
For the system to have any credibility, there needs to be some trust in the mathematics behind it, because very few people, even those who play and watch cricket for a living, have any idea how it really works. Those who do know, or at least claim to know, tell us that when India beat New Zealand in the second Test to secure a series win, they became the new number one team.
India has come out on top of a deeply flawed system; but as this is the only system that we have, the achievement still needs to be celebrated.
Over the last three years, India has played 29 Tests — winning 12 and losing eight — with a win/loss ratio of 1.500. Only Australia has a better record over the same period, while Pakistan has an identical win/loss ratio to India over the same period.
Things are really bunched up at the moment, and as a result, we are going through a period of flux at the top of Test rankings. There is no side with a genuine lead, and this swapping of places among the top ranked sides will be the norm for a while. Right now, the top-ranked team has a rating of between 110 and 115 points. Back when Australia were the best side in the world in 2006/07, it had a rating of 135.
This ranking congestion has led to some to suggest that India is not worthy of its position; but this isn't the case. India has done as well as any other team in the ranking period, especially at home, where they haven't lost a Test since 2012, when they lost 1-2 to England at home. Since that series, India has played 12 Tests at home, winning 11 and drawing one. They are close to unstoppable in Indian conditions, and it's this sort of home form that has been the foundation of every No 1 side since the rankings began.
Overseas though, things are not as good, but they are far from awful. In the last three years, they have played 21 Tests overseas, winning five, losing eight and drawing eight. That gives them a win/lose ratio of 0.625; fifth best among Test teams. A middling away record combined with a spotless one at home is more than good to get to the top of the tree.
Chances are that India will be usurped by another side in the not too distant future, but the exciting thing for fans is that this is a team at the beginning of its journey, not the end. Virat Kohli has only just begun moulding this team in his image. Given time, his steely edge and fighting spirit can lift his teammates. There was a time when his demeanour was more petulant than professional, but he has found a way to control himself and his charges.
The batting line-up has a solid makeup and able replacements as well. Cheteshwar Pujara has rediscovered his form, Rohit Sharma has starting to make his fabled talent count, and Ravichandran Ashwin has become a world class all-rounder.
The real challenge going forward will be for their seamers to perform in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England. But that is for the future. There are 11 more Tests for India at home this season and they could conceivably win them all, or at least go unbeaten throughout this run of games. If they do that, they can give themselves some breathing room at the top of the rankings.
First Published On : Oct 4, 2016 10:42 IST