ICC CEO Dave Richardson has been heading all over the cricketing world to present his large mace to the alleged number one team. The frequency of his presentations, recently to Misbah-ul-Haq, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli has made a mockery of the ICC’s Test Rankings as it is clear that no team can currently claim to hold the top spot. It is quite unusual for there to be such an equality between so many sides but this is what we are seeing at this current time. There are no great teams that can compare to the Australia side of a decade ago or Graeme Smith’s South Africa in its pomp, but this equality can produce a superb series, as was seen by England and Pakistan in the summer of 2016.
Of the ten Test nations, five find themselves within 13 rating points of each other (the relative value of these rating points is pointlessly complicated and it is not worthwhile attempting to understand how they work. It should just be known that between the top five teams it is incredibly close). At the time of writing, before the 4th Test between India and England, the rankings read as follows:
India – 115.
England – 105.
Australia – 105.
Pakistan – 102.
South Africa – 102.
So where does the balance of power move from here? It is perhaps ominous that the current top three are the so called ‘big three’ that control the revenue of the sport and over the next few years it would be difficult to bet against India becoming, for the first time, the dominant force in Test cricket.
Haseeb Hameed has shown in three Tests a level that not many could have realistically expected from a 19 year old in his first series. He joins a long list of players who have made their debut in India and Keaton Jennings will be hoping to do the same in Mumbai on the 8th of December. Since India’s rise in status as a Test team in the 1970s, playing in the subcontinent has become one of the most unique challenges for batsmen from around the world. Batting in India is to enter the domain of some of the game’s greatest spinners from Bishan Bedi and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar to Anil Kumble and Ravi Ashwin. This spin challenge is made tougher by the weather and atmosphere, on and off the field, which is alien to most players who arrive from England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Caribbean. Touring India is therefore tough for even the most experienced batsmen, which means that those who are chosen to debut in the country are often exceptional talents who go on to have stellar Test careers.
In the 1960s India were not the same beast as they are now. However, when the West Indies toured in the winter of 1966 the team they faced did include the spinners Venkataraghavan and Chandrasekhar who would continue to be an important part of the excellent 70s side. It was in this tour that a 23 year old Clive Lloyd made his Test debut, coming into the side for Seymour Nurse who had a finger injury. The West Indies won the three match series 2-0 with Lloyd making a significant impact on the first Test in Mumbai (then Bombay). The West Indies gained a healthy first innings lead of 125 in no small part down to Lloyd’s 82. However, it was in the second innings that Lloyd made the greatest impression, as his team faced a tricky chase of 192 on a spinning pitch, his score of 78* and unbeaten stand of 102 with Garry Sobers eased West Indies to victory after wickets from Chandrasekhar left them feeling nervous on 90-4. Lloyd’s superb match winning debut was elegantly summed up in Wisden;
“The performance of this bespectacled left-hander, who hit the ball with great power off the back foot, and the all-round brilliance of Sobers and Holford were the highlights of West Indies’ victory against defiant opposition.”
This performance was enough to secure his place when Seymour came back into the side for the second Test at Eden Gardens where a riot on New Year’s Day could not interrupt the West Indies wining by an innings and 45 runs, largely inspired by the bowling of Lance Gibbs and Garry Sobers, with Lloyd scoring just 5.