Transitional world order
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On the back of the 3-0 whitewash Down Under in late 1999, India lost a Test series at home for the first time in 13 years against South Africa early next year. From there, it took more than a decade for India to reach the top, despite having a core of talent (Sachin, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly, Kumble) to build on. And even with that, it required several other factors -- a line of capable captains, a settled opening pair and the emergence of promising pacers and talent from smaller centers and the success of the IPL -- for the transition to come about. For a generation to wither away and another to take root, it takes at least as long.
Transitions are neither easy nor do they happen overnight. There can be a case made to rate where the Test sides rank in terms of competitiveness to where in the cycle of transition they figure. While South Africa have remained a more than competitive outfit since their re-entry, it has been almost 13 years since Cronje's retirement for the side to assert itself as the No. 1 Test side in a convincing manner. For England too, the turn-around took close to two decades. Currently No. 1 and 2, they both have a few years left before the teams will have to renew themselves.
Even for sides like Australia, that have traditionally had in place policies to deal with generational shifts, success has not been a constant through eras. Australia, especially so after Ponting and Hussey have departed, and India are sides that are in the process of casting away the old and ushering in the new, and are currently 3 and 5.
The West Indies (No. 7) never really managed it and have struggled for close to two decades now -- from 43 wins from 82 Tests in the 80s, they have 24 in 134 since 2000. With the retirement of Vaas and Muralitharan, Sri Lanka (No. 6) too are feeling the heat, winning just four of 22 Tests in the last two years.
(Shamik is a senior correspondent based in Kolkata)