Is India Serious About Returning to Top of World Test Rankings?

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Is India Serious About Returning to Top of World Test Rankings?
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India's tour to South Africa looks set to be shortened.

It has now been two years since India arrived on English shores as the world's No. 1 ranked Test side. Two years since the supposed champions of the Test arena endured a catastrophic humbling at the hands of the team who would quickly take their place at the game's summit.

An Indian outfit that hit Heathrow's tarmac as conquerors in mid-2011, departed in an embarrassing mess of misery just a couple of months later.

While the merits of India's No. 1 ranking at the time are questionable, the more pressing issue is whether cricket's most influential force actually holds the desire to return to that short-lived post.

A simple question, sure. Yet current events would suggest the answer is extremely fuzzy.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India's (BCCI) recent dealings with Cricket South Africa (CSA) regarding the scheduling of international fixtures between the two countries, worryingly hint towards a somewhat warped set of priorities for cricket's richest organisation.

Ritam Banerjee/Getty Images
The BCCI's power over CSA is forcing tour rescheduling.

India was set to tour South Africa late next month, a tour which was to be kicked off by a Twenty20 International on November 21. As outlined as part of the ICC's Future Tours Program, the proposed South African campaign was to contain three Tests, seven ODI's and two T20I's, with the tour finishing on January 19.

Given the nature of the ICC's Test Ranking system, which takes opposition strength into account when calculating ratings, it's in India's interests to embark on a sustained head-to-head battle with the current occupiers of the No. 1 position.

Yet when the BCCI announced fixtures for a visit from the West Indies, which overlap with the proposed South African tour, it was hard not to question India's ambition in the Test arena.

By inviting the lowly Caribbean side to the subcontinent and initiating a fixture clash, the BCCI is excising its egotistical might to force CSA to bow to its demands for a shorter South African tour. According to ESPN Cricinfo, India's governing body believes seven ODI's are "too many," while the break between the final two Tests is apparently an issue as well.

If the Indian board gets its way as expected, the South Africa tour will be limited to two Tests, three ODI's and two T20I's.

India's Fixture Clashes with South Africa and the West Indies
Nov 21 1st ODI vs. West Indies 1st T20I vs. South Africa
Nov 24 2nd ODI vs. West Indies 2nd T20I vs. South Africa
Nov 27 3rd ODI vs. West Indies 1st ODI vs. South Africa

ESPN Cricinfo

You could certainly be forgiven for believing that these moves have the team's aspirations at heart. On the face of it, the decision seems like a measure taken to protect players from burnout.

However, that's until you hear the BCCI's justification for using its clout over CSA, as per ESPN Cricinfo.

A BCCI official:

We understand we have a commitment and we want to tour South Africa, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't safeguard our players' and board's interests.

Essentially, the board's interests are financial. Hosting the West Indies is merely an act of revenue raising, a way to ensure the BCCI's commercial interests are taken care of. A skewed focus on limited overs cricket in 2013, not helped by the Champions Trophy, has meant India hasn't played a Test of any kind, let alone one on home soil, since March.

The prospect of leaving for foreign shores without a Test outing in more than six months is something the BCCI is keen to avoid. Additional dividends from another home series are being sought, while concurrently ensuring that the transitional Indian team is given a gentle ride.

Touring South Africa represents an on-field threat to India, such is the Proteas strength. Yet a long stint venturing from Cape Town to Durban to Johannesburg is also a far-from-lucrative arrangement for the Indians and the BCCI.

Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
India are scheduled to tour New Zealand in late January.

Those facts are reinforced by the all-powerful board's intentions for the team's tour to New Zealand, which has been proposed for late January.

Instead of relishing the opportunity to take on Graeme Smith's world beaters, the BCCI is aiming to maintain the proposed dates for the journey to Kiwi borders. In doing so, India's tour to South Africa is being eaten into at both ends.

Which leaves us to ponder whether scaling the heights of Test cricket is at the forefront of India's priorities. An organisation hell bent on seeing its team reclaim its status as the world's best would be actively pushing for an encounter with the Proteas.

Yet instead, the BCCI is throwing around its weight to do anything but that, depriving fans of a potentially compelling series while damaging Test cricket's appeal in the process.

However, while the news is further evidence of the game's imbalances, perhaps time will teach India that having your hands in your pockets makes it hard to grab the ultimate prize.

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