In 2012, I suggested that the cricket world was about to become neatly polarized — the brown teams would reassert dominance in South Asia, and the white teams would guard their respective fortresses in England/Australia/South Africa. India’s recent series loss to England at home hinted of another possibility, but I think it was more of an anomaly committed by a team in transition (?). At any rate, no one cricket team can now fully dominate the rest.
To watch Indian spinners confound the Australians over more than a month laid bare an old truth of cricket: white people can’t play spin, and brown people — er, non-Pakistani brown people, rather — can’t bowl fast. As happy as I am about the India victory, I live as ever in deathly fear of the upcoming tour of South Africa. Can anyone imagine Ishant Sharma and B. Kumar taking wickets there? Will R. Jadeja and Dhoni and Vijay and Dhawan — all key planks of the new Indian batting order — survive the inevitable barrage of swing and pace? Will we see another terrible drubbing abroad?
In one sense, the last few years of cricket have been some of the most exciting. No team has been good enough to transcend the boundaries of the post-colonial world. England threatened to do so (winning in Australia when no one has, and winning in India when they rarely have), but they were also whitewashed by Pakistan in the Middle East. South Africa are forever contenders to take up the mantle left by the West Indians and the Australians of yore, but they still lack a quality spinner (and have yet to recently win — rather than merely draw — a series in India). Australia, meanwhile, look unlikely to thrive for another few years, at least until people like Warner, Cowan, Hughes, Watson etc., fully mature.
And the same goes for the brown teams: Sri Lanka are not far away from the retirements of two of their greatest batsmen; Pakistan’s batting remains problematic, and India’s pace cupboard, while well stocked, seems filled with ingredients either not ready for use or past their expiration date.
I imagine we’d all prefer closely fought series, and the recent whitewashes will feed criticism that cricket’s home advantage is just too strong. But isn’t it a beautiful thing to see a pace bowler thrive in his native jungle? Weren’t we all amazed and thrilled to see spinners at both ends throwing darts at batsmen surrounded by fielders? We will likely have to wait some time until a new generation of cricketing heroes emerge and succeed universally; until then, I’m happy to watch these minor characters perfect their limited — but entirely well-suited — set of skills.