There’s an argument developing online, contra my and Eye On Cricket’s take, that the Steyn battering proved that India’s recent success is just a mirage, built on results against middling teams like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and England. Here’s Prem Panicker, for instance:
It may not seem like it at the time, but this series is already proving to be a blessing – we can finally put our sense of notional superiority aside and find out exactly where we stand in terms of being a high quality Test side, and start work on building the sort of team that doesn’t require a buffet of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to climb ranking ladders.
This isn’t exactly fair. First, Sri Lanka isn’t that bad a team; we lost to them in Sri Lanka not too long ago. And neither is England — they just beat the Australians at home, and they nearly did the same to South Africa in South Africa. Second, India have also done well against South Africa and Australia (the only two other ‘quality’ teams, apparently). We drew with South Africa when they last visited, and we comprehensively beat Australia when their turn arose. Third, India has also done well outside of India, including in New Zealand, once a very serious no-go zone for Indian batsmen. (In fact, take a look at the Napier scorecard for hope in this Test — the Kiwis scored 600+ runs in the first innings; India followed-on, only to bat through to a draw.)
During this time, India faced Mitchell Johnson, Morne Morkel, Makhaya Ntini, Stuart Broad and Dale Steyn, all currently among the top 10 best Test bowlers. It’s ludicrous to think the Indians had not played ‘real’ pace before Steyn’s burst yesterday. (Besides, keep in mind that Steyn is ranked no. 1 — it’s one thing to play good bowlers, it’s another thing to play against the best in his prime form.)
The point here isn’t that India’s the best. No, they’re not, and Panicker rightly points out the flaws — a pace attack short of one good fast bowler, and a weakness against raw pace and swing. But, as E.O.C. noted, every Test cricket team has some weakness or the other, and they’ve all been exposed: South Africa couldn’t beat back England at home (at home!); Australia lost to South Africa in Australia, and South Africa lost to Australia in South Africa. Things are in flux, and no one dominating team has emerged.