DUBAI: The No. 1 ranking is a reflection of the consistency shown by the Indian team, but is the No. 1 team the best side in the world?
Cricketers often insist that they don’t pay too much attention to rankings, and occasionally they might even mean it, but there are some accomplishments impossible to not celebrate. Such as simultaneously holding the No. 1 team ranking across the three international formats.
Friday’s five-wicket victory over Australia in Mohali in the first of three One-Day Internationals catapulted India to top-dog status in 50-over cricket. Already occupying the top rung in Tests and Twenty20 Internationals, India are now the No. 1-ranked side in the world in all formats, a remarkable achievement given that it has only happened once before – in 2012, when South Africa ruled the roost.
What does the No. 1 ranking truly mean?
It’s said, and not without reason, that staying at the top is infinitely more difficult than getting there. That’s not to say that the ascent to the summit is easy; it’s just that on the upward march, several factors can combine to propel one to the peak but once there, you becomes a marked entity, every competitor looking to pull you down.
The No. 1 ranking is a reflection of the consistency shown by the Indian team, but is the No. 1 team the best side in the world?
India haven’t won a global title since the 2013 Champions Trophy, and last week’s triumph at the Asia Cup in Colombo was their first silverware in a tournament involving more than two teams for nearly five years. Would you rather be the top-ranked side in the world, or a unit that knows how to rise to the challenge in big events, how to seize the moments that truly matter?
Skipper Rohit Sharma and head coach Rahul Dravid might not admit so publicly, but they would happily swap the No. 1 ranking in each of the three versions for a trophy – the World Cup trophy, if they had the choice. After all, that’s what great teams are remembered by, for the tournaments and titles they win, for the crowns they wear.
It’s not as if the top ranking counts for nothing, because it rewards consistency over extended periods of time which, in some quarters, might be worth plenty more than a sporadic patch of brilliance that might net ultimate glory. But when that barren run extends beyond a decade, is being ranked No. 1 alone a massive cause for celebration?
Let’s jog back to 1983
Let’s take the 1983 World Cup triumph as a guide. Under Ajit Wadekar, India had registered Test series triumphs in the Caribbean and in England in the space of six months in 1971, but it didn’t quite fire the imagination of the fans like it should have because it was in the pre-television era.
But when viewers were able to witness live the semifinals and finals 40 years back when India overcame England and subdued the mighty West Indies respectively, the fallout was humongous. An entire generation of legends – Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman – was so inspired by that title run that cricket became the be-all and end-all. 1983 triggered a limited-overs revolution that only met its match in 2007 when, against all odds, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s unheralded bunch carved its way through the draw to lift the inaugural T20 World Cup.
Around the plethora of individual achievements that followers of the sport in India, more than anywhere else, celebrate uninhibitedly, it’s the 1983 World Cup, the 1985 World Championship of Cricket, the 2007 T20 World Cup and the 2011 World Cup triumphs that stand out. And that’s precisely why the No. 1 ranking needs to be put in perspective. It’s no mean feat, to be able to occupy pole position in all three formats when the surfeit of cricket has spawned injuries galore. It speaks to the depth of cricketing talent in the country, to the success of the systems put in place that focus not just on the present but also the future.
Recently in Sri Lanka, the great Aravinda de Silva was all praise for the quality at India’s disposal, telling me that not many countries had the wherewithal to field two or three equally competitive and top-class teams at the same time. But it did come with a rider: ‘I hope they win a title too soon.’ Numero uno in rankings is brilliant, and in all formats three times so. Now, to embellish the trophy cabinet with meaningful, much-needed silverware.