Needless to say, I am quite thrilled by India's comprehensive victory over Australia in the recently-concluded test series. However, not even years of practice have inured me to the Indian media's unthinking coverage of cricket (and, of course, not only cricket). We are told that India is now challenging Australia for the crown of the best test team; we are told that this more than makes up for India's embarrassing performance in Sri Lanka a few months ago; and plenty more.
Nothing could be further from the truth: as someone who has cheered every Indian cricket victory, and agonized over every defeat (sometimes staying up all night to watch a Day 5 meltdown from various NYC locations), there is no doubt in my mind that India is not the second-best team in the world, let alone the best. Let's put the team's recent performances in perspective: it has lost its most recent test series in South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan; and drawn its most recent home test series against England and South Africa.
India unquestionably matches up well against Australia, and has played it harder, and more consistently so, than any other team this decade. But that isn't the same as being the world's second-best team, and India's recent record reminds me of nothing so much as Pakistan in the late-1970s and '80s. During that period, Pakistan-West Indies test series were among the most exciting in cricket, and Pakistan came very close indeed to beating the West Indies in the Caribbean (they probably would have done so too, had various dubious umpiring decisions not gone the hosts' way). However, none of this meant anything when Pakistan toured England or Australia, as even the rather mediocre 1980s teams of the Ashes rivals proved more than a match for Pakistan on their home turf.
So too with India: it is a good team, and is certainly miles better overseas than it was 8-10 years ago, but it is inconsistent, and often seems unable to summon up the requisite passion when playing against anyone other than Australia. After watching its Day 5 meltdowns over the last few years -- in Karachi in 2006, in Mumbai against England the same year, in Bangalore against Pakistan in 2005, to name just a few -- it is hard not to be left with the impression that the team (and many of its fans) are so obsessed with doing well against Australia that they seem to have forgotten about everyone else.