x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Time for India to get serious

A 100th Test victory is more than just a milestone - it should be the start of a winning era, especially away from home.

India's 100th Test win, achieved in Kanpur against Sri Lanka last week, must become more than just a landmark victory. It has to propel the side on a run of continued success. I am not just referring simply to the world rankings, but to a steady flow of important away wins against the very best out there. A win abroad was a rarity before the start of the millennium, but things changed when Sourav Ganguly took over as captain from Sachin Tendulkar and teamed up brilliantly with India's coach, the New Zealander John Wright. The baton has passed smoothly to Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and now MS Dhoni, who have led the team to decent wins away from home.

India have a tough journey ahead to get anywhere near to Australia's dominance and that's why it seems a bit strange that Dhoni's side can become No 1 without having beaten Australia in a series Down Under. It makes you wonder what sense do the rankings really make? But then, that's what happens when superiority or inferiority is decided only by statistics. However formidable they look, India have to correct some areas of their game if they are to consistently dominate.

The pace attack looks a bit iffy, with Zaheer Khan just coming back after injury and Ishant Sharma losing the bite he has shown previously. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth may have won his second Test match for India (Johannesburg in 2006 was the first) but he needs to be more consistent to enhance his record of 56 wickets in 15 Tests. His temperament is also questionable, although he seems to have learnt his lesson after once being labelled the enfant terrible of Indian cricket.

Spin bowling is also a worry because there is far too much dependence on Harbhajan Singh. If he goes through a bad phase, India do not appear to have a spinner who has the quality to help bowl a side out. The lack of an all-rounder is another hole that India must plug. Irfan Pathan was the great hope, but he has just lost his magic with bat and ball. All in all, the strength in depth has to improve. I remember someone asking the late India batsman Dilip Sardesai to explain how his state side, Mumbai, were so invincible in the 1960s and 1970s. Sardesai had a simple answer.

"We were a damn good side, but the guys who were waiting in the reserves were as good if not better. You just couldn't afford to slip because the other man was waiting to take your place for good." Cricket lovers are licking their lips in anticipation of the series between India and South Africa in the Rainbow Nation. This is the series that will determine whether this Indian squad is one of true quality.

But ahead of that trip what worries me is that the bowling attack does not look very fearsome on a good batting pitch. And when it comes to batting, India's ability to counter good seaming conditions is a bit suspect. How does a team solve such issues? By tackling the problem head-on and being aggressive. Indian cricket administrators must do all they can to get curators to prepare tracks with good bounce where the batsmen are challenged.

India need to face fire with fire in order to succeed against all types of bowling and pitches. A century of Test wins is worth celebrating but we must have that hunger for perfection - just like the Australians. Dhoni is a fine captain but he needs to take a bold approach if India are to reach the top of world cricket in style.

After India hit the hundred mark I decided to pick India's ten finest Test wins and I came up with this list, in chronological order: 1. Chennai, 1952 India ended their 20-year wait for a Test victory here against Donald Carr's Englishmen. 2. Kanpur, 1959 Aided by off-spinner Jasu Patel's nine for 69 in Australia's first innings, Richie Benaud's tourists were conquered by 119 runs. 3. Mumbai, 1964 A packed house watched a cliffhanger, which India clinched by two wickets. 4. Trinidad, 1971 Sunil Gavaskar led the batting charge with knocks of 65 and 67 on his Test debut while Dilip Sardesai scored a memorable hundred.

5. The Oval, 1971 BS Chandrasekhar claimed six to bowl out England for 101 before India achieved their 173-run target with four wickets to spare. 6. Trinidad, 1976 Set to score 403 for victory, India scored 406, losing only four wickets in a record run chase. 7. Melbourne, 1981 Australia needed to score only 143 to win but crumbled thanks to Kapil Dev, who took five wickets for 28.

8. Kolkata, 2001 Despite being forced to follow-on, India ended up beating Australia. Harbhajan became India's first Test hat-trick man and VVS Laxman played the innings of his life. 9. Adelaide, 2003 India achieved only their fourth Test win Down Under when Rahul Dravid and Ajit Agarkar shared the batting and bowling honours. 10. Perth, 2008 After a dramatic loss in Sydney, Anil Kumble's Indians re-grouped and beat Australia at a venue where they were considered invincible .

This happens to be my favourite. Some veteran Indian cricket followers have not seen a more tough and determined bunch than Kumble's men last year in Perth. Clayton Murzello is the sports editor of the Indian newspaper Midday