World rankings, like averages and strike rates, can be very deceptive mathematical creations. Some people believe in them, many don't. On which side of the fence you sit depends almost entirely on how high or low your favourite team or player is placed - Ricky Ponting's goal in life went from "staying number 1" to "playing good, consistent cricket" as his Aussies descended the ladder of greatness and ICC rankings. However, we must live in the present and it is an official and indisputable fact that MS Dhoni's Team India are currently the best Test team in world cricket.
This was a journey whose seeds were sown as a footnote to the infamous match fixing saga and the Aussies' marauding of Sachin Tendulkar's Team India in 1999/2000. Indian cricket awoke from its decades-long slumber and became serious about winning cricket matches, at home and away. John Wright was installed as the team's first foreign coach, and with Sourav Ganguly as the powerful, ever-confident and aggressive captain, he formed one of the most formidable partnerships ever seen in world cricket.
Series wins at home continued with these two at the helm, but the real highlights were the regular away Test match wins that were added to the register. Unfortunately, the postscript to this era was the Chappell years. Team India appeared to fall back to the deep, dark abyss of the pre-Ganguly years. For a time it even appeared that Rahul Dravid, sometime captain, would be lost to the cause due to the politicking, pettiness and ineptitude of the powerful few.
Fast forward to England 2007, Team India conquered the colonialists after many nearly efforts against the Aussies, English and the South Africans. This was Team India's 'giant leap' and the foundation on which first Anil Kumble, and then MS Dhoni built this castle.
Details of victory after glorious victory are now folklore. In hindsight, it is irrefutable that MS Dhoni's ascension to the throne has been the most significant factor in Team India's sustained run of successes thus. His calm demeanour and unifying force are oft lauded. However, his talents with both gloves and bat in the 5-day format are seldom given their due. There is no better 'keeper-batsman package in world cricket today.
This feat could not have been achieved more emphatically. Two thumping innings victories against not-so-feeble opposition only serves to underline Team India's dominance over the previous 18-20 months.
The cliche goes that it's easy to get to the top, a helluva lot harder to stay there. It does not need me to preach this to Dhoni or the team - this is why Gary Kirsten exists. Indian cricket has traditionally been a poor front runner. The Indian media will play its part to ensure that the team is given every opportunity to lose focus. The BCCI has already played its hand with abysmal scheduling.
Despite all such external obstacles, the length of time Indian cricket stays at the top will depend entirely upon whether its individual members can win the battle in their minds, for the team has all the components to be a formidable unit for many years yet.
Having said this, now is not the time for answers. The road has been long and occasionally painful. Many corks need popping and bottle tops need opening. This is one party every Indian cricket fan needs to enjoy.
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