WHAT DOES BEING NUMBER 1 IN TEST CRICKET ENTAIL?
A. Winning a series in all Test playing countries.
B. Being able to maintain the Number One position for a considerable time period
C. Having a strong playing XI as well as bench strength
D. All of the above
In the past five years, Test cricket has seen three different teams in the NumeroUno position and each from a different continent. Australia, India and now England. Each of these three teams has had strikingly different approaches to Test cricket. While Australia dominated teams on back of their sheer performance, India has managed to win mainly due to the legendary players in their side and more recently England have built a strong side with young but talented and consistent players. Australia led the Test rankings for a record time period of 74 months from 2003 to 2009. In 2009, India overtook them as the Number 1 team but lasted on top for only about 20 months. England has only recently been crowned the Number 1 team after the whitewashed India 4-0.
Coming back to the question, what does being the Number 1 Test team in the world mean? What does a team have to do in order to attain the Numero Uno position?
Is it winning a series in all 10 Test playing countries? When Australia was the number one team in the world, they had comprehensively won a Test series in all the Test playing countries. From the late 90s Australia has won a Test series in all the Test playing countries, first, under the captaincy of Steve Waugh, and then under Ricky Ponting. But they conquered the Final Frontier (India) only under stand-in skipper Adam Gilchrist. India on the other hand, has never won a series in Australia and South Africa, but on their last tours there, have managed to draw the series. However in the last decade itself, India has defeated England, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe on their home soil. As far as England is concerned, they have won a Test series in all test playing nations, except Zimbabwe. However, most of these victories have come in the 1970s and 80s when they were the best team in the world. Also England has a forgettable record in the subcontinent;they not won a series in India since 1985, in Pakistan since 2000, in Sri Lanka since 2001.Thus if we use the number and venues of victories as a benchmark to decide the Number 1 team in the world, then only one cricket team will qualify, Australia, which is incidentally ranked at number five.
Or is it consistently staying at the top of the Table for a considerable period of time? Since its inception in the year 2000, there has been only one team which has maintained stronghold over the ICC Test Rankings. Australia had been perched atop the Ranking Tables for close to a decade. It was only in December 2009 that India toppled Australia and started their reign on Top. Sadly India could not manage to stay there for long. In August 2011, barely 20 months after reaching the No 1 spot, India had to make way for England who is currently the Number 1 ranked team in the world. So Australia for a decade, India for one and a half year and only time will tell how long England will manage to stay there. This shows that time period is again an ambiguous judge of the Number 1 team, therefore cannot be used as a yardstick to justify the Number 1 ranking.
The third option is the quality and quantity of the team. Does having a strong bench and a stronger XI the key to being adjudged the Number 1 team in the world? During their reign on top, Australia possessed an enviable team with the likes of Hayden, Gilchrist, Ponting, McGrath, Warne, Langer and the likes which is what made them such a potent outfit. These players were all legends in their own right and in the past decade were at their peak. And this was also the main reason for their decline, when al the greats retired, the team could not fill the void and eventually slipped. India too came up due to similar reasons; legendary cricketers whop could win a game on their own. The Indian line up boasted of Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, Kumble, Zaheer, all of who were individual greats in their own right. While most of them are still playing, the overall impact has dimmed as was reflected in the series against England. When it comes to bench strength, both India and Australia at their peak, never had replacements which were half as good as the players. England on the other hand, has a young unit with both strong players and substitutes. The current English squad doesn’t have a single player who can be called a legend of the game as all of them are considerably new, but their strength lies in the fact that they have developed a number of players who can play at the highest level. Again if we use this as a yardstick to measure the Number 1 team, it will not provide a substantial reason.
Therefore, in order to deserve the highest ranking in the highest form of cricket, a team should have all of the above attributes. They must win a series in all 10 Test playing nations, be on top for long enough to justify their ranking and have a team that can beat the best even when their key players are missing. Any team which manages to do all these deserve to occupy the Top spot proudly.