Sunil Gavaskar raised an interesting point the other day when he said that the present Indian cricket team was perhaps the greatest in its history. That the squad is going through a highly successful phase is well known and certified by the No 1 spot in the ICC Test rankings. What is of particular interest is the fact that the experts said much the same thing about the Indian team that was on international duty in the first decade of the millennium when the overall outcome was favourable including a climb to the No 1 spot in the rankings for the first time.
On closer scrutiny perhaps there is little to choose between the two squads. The batting of the earlier team was much stronger with Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman around. The present team would appear to depend overmuch on Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara with the others not of the same calibre going by their overall record. The presence of MS Dhoni gives the previous team more than an edge though Rishabh Pant has come on strongly in the last couple of years.
There is little doubt though that in pace bowling the current squad is far stronger. Zaheer Khan and to a lesser extent Irfan Pathan were the only really successful spearheads through much of the first decade of the new millennium while these days the team has the likes of Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar with Ishant Sharma’s career overlapping the two squads. In the spin department it seems to be equally balanced for if Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh were the kingpins in the first decade Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have proved to be as destructive in the second decade.
There appears to be little difference in the overall record too. The home record of both squads is predictably awesome but the earlier team did come up with some outstanding away performances. A series win in England in 2007, only the third time India had won in that country, a squared series in Australia in 2003-04, only the third time India came back from that country with such a result, a historic series triumph in Pakistan in 2004, a series victory in the West Indies against a side that had in their ranks Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Chris Gayle in 2006, a victory in New Zealand in 2009 for the first time in 41 years, a shared series for the first time in South Africa in 2010-11. The red lines in the balance sheet would be a really bad loss in New Zealand in 2002-03 when they were simply blown away in the two Tests and two successive losses in Sri Lanka in 2001 and 2008.
Over a shorter period, the crowning glory of the present squad would be their two consecutive series wins in Australia while they have also won two successive series in Sri Lanka, the first one coming after 22 years. But in the Kohli era India have lost in England, South Africa and New Zealand though at home the record has been superlative even by India’s lofty standards.
So viewed from any angle there is very little to choose between the two sides. Simply put the batting was stronger in the earlier team, the current side is stronger in pace bowling while in spin bowling there is hardly any difference. In addition, both teams reached No 1 in the ICC Test rankings though Kohli’s side has been perched there over a longer period. So let the debate begin as to which team is greater and it should be a most interesting one!
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal)