Team's resilience, the outstanding facet

Whether seeding leadership groups in the team or telling those that occupy the high offices of the parliament where to go, the Indian cricket coach, Greg Chappell, was in the thick of things. S. Ram Mahesh takes a look at how Indian cricket fared in the past 12 months.

2006 was Indian cricket's year of dichotomy. The Test side, supposedly suspect abroad, lost a game at home to England, but won its first series in the Caribbean in 35 years and its first ever Test in South Africa. Meanwhile, a decidedly vivacious one-day side on the upswing in February lost its bearings as the year unfolded, and struggled so badly it won just one of three Champions Trophy matches at home.

Through it all, the outstanding facet has been the team's resilience, a trait its skipper is an exemplar of. "That's been the most pleasing thing," said coach Greg Chappell after the significant win in Johannesburg. "Not only on this tour, but in the Caribbean too. We had a disappointment in the ODIs and the spirit remained strong there, as it had done in Pakistan before that, after losing a tough Test series and the first ODI on a Duckworth-Lewis decision. There's some real resilience in the group, as there is in India. The battle for survival in India is such that one thing you do learn is resilience. These boys have got plenty of it."

4 2006 — like most self-respecting years — was the year some came of age and the year others went off the boil. M. S. Dhoni did enough to suggest he will be Indian cricket's most valuable asset in times to come. Seen by the simplistic as a slogger, Dhoni proved a sharp cricketing brain always outdoes the MCC coaching manual. His batting — while simply conceived — has the requisite complexity to deal with problems of pace, bounce, swing, cut, and turn. Yuvraj Singh, before hurting his knee in an intemperate game of kho-kho, had raised his limited-overs batting to levels the pre-Hussey world didn't think possible. Wasim Jaffer's hundred at Nagpur and double at Antigua were glorious if rare reminders that the grind of domestic cricket serves a purpose.

Munaf Patel and Sreesanth bowled spells of such sustained quality a grateful skipper said it was the best he had seen since Srinath and Prasad. Irfan Pathan the bowler, however, slid. The first first-over hat trick in Test history notwithstanding, Pathan (at least till we went to press), couldn't consistently bowl to international standard. Master classes with Roberts, Thommo, and Akram (part 2 had been put off as of writing) had no apparent and immediate benefit; celebrating one spell against England in the Champions Trophy was a case if ever of searching for crumbs.

2006 was the year of redemption. Mummified and entombed, Sourav Ganguly was written off by all but the most die-hard. The Ganguly of old didn't fit in with the team's new philosophy, so he re-invented himself and hoped.

He re-discovered how simple it was to love the game, paid a part of his dues in domestic cricket, learnt to let go amidst accusations of hanging on, and made his point. His unbeaten half-century at the Wanderers wasn't an embarrassment to Chappell; merely affirmation that a desire to change when played off India's crazy system, like beams of reflected light between trick mirrors, could produce strange and unexpected results. Also making a comeback was former Ganguly protege Zaheer Khan.

The left-armer bowled relentlessly in English county cricket to coax his bowling muscles into requisite condition and build a database of positive memories. Perceived as lazy and unwilling to improve, much like Ganguly, Zaheer was helped by the ambition of a man slighted and by Pathan's decline.

2006 was the year of Guru Greg — an appellation that reminds us of television's increasing role in representing reality. Whether seeding leadership groups in the team or telling those that occupy the high offices of the parliament where to go, the former Australian skipper was in the thick of things.

Having to explain his concepts to uncomprehending morons and comprehending saboteurs couldn't have been easy. But, he persevered, resorting neither to injured finger nor harsh word, as a nation that over-reacts called for his head. In between he addressed a couple of memorable pressers where he showed he was a guy's guy.

And finally, 2006 was the year of the cricket writer. The win on a spiked track in Jamaica, the victory over South Africa, weakened perhaps but still formidable, the remnants of the world-record streak for one-day chases, the Ganguly ouster, the Ganguly return, the loss of one-day form, the coronation of Dravid's legend, the grandstanding on the MPA by the BCCI, the expulsion of Dalmiya, the theatrics of Sreesanth: those with laptops and frequent flyer miles had much to slaver over.