Vertical Limit - Indian cricket’s climb to No. 1 in Test rankings

When Prithvi Shaw was ruled out midway through India’s Test tour of Australia with an untimely ankle injury, the selectors didn’t have to cast the net far and wide in their search for a replacement. Mayank Agarwal, the prolific Karnataka opener pounding on the doors of selection, wasn’t just available, but also ready. A multi-format tour of New Zealand with the India A squad, backed up by a fruitful appearance for his state in the Ranji Trophy, meant Agarwal was both in touch and form, primed for a glorious Test debut that was key to India grabbing a series-winning lead in Melbourne.

At about the same time, Australia were grappling with a multitude of batting woes. Admittedly, the absence through suspension of Steve Smith and David Warner was a crippling blow. Their other concerns, too, were of their own making. With the first-class Sheffield Shield competition forced into temporary hiatus to accommodate the 20-over Big Bash League (BBL), the selection panel had no longer format games to fall back on to pick the team. That they were forced to bring middle-order batsman Peter Handscomb back into the Test XI on the basis of a blazing half-century as an opener for his BBL franchise alone told a tale.

Not so long ago, Australia were cricket’s trend-setters. Other countries strove to emulate their template. Today, though, the tide has turned. While the one-time pacemakers are caught struggling to stay relevant in Test cricket even as they are milking the Twenty20 cash-cow, India - enviously pilloried for their strong focus on the Indian Premier League (IPL) - have emerged as the undisputed kings of planning and execution; the lucre of the IPL not blinding them to the arresting pull of the longest format.

India’s spectacular ascension to, and unshakable hold on, the No. 1 Test ranking isn’t a happy accident emanating from a series of favourable coincidences. Instead, it is the culmination of a string of measures put in place many years ago, the fruits of which are increasingly beginning to become apparent. The success of the national team can only stem from the vibrancy of domestic cricket - from age-group to first-class. For all the administrative mess that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is in, there has been no compromise on the sport. Not only has this translated into a world-beating international side, but the system is steadily throwing up complete players (finished products, if you may) capable of grabbing their chances as and when.

About the Writer

R Kaushik is a Bangalore-based cricket writer who has been writing on the sport since 1991. He is the co-author of VVS Laxman's autobiography, 281 And Beyond.

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