Whatever may be said of cricket in India, that it takes away a major space in the media, that it draws away a big chunk of revenue from sponsors at the cost of other sports or that it captures the imagination of sportsfans like none other, one thing needs to be accepted, the sport has brought the first feel-good sporting moment in the New Year.
The reference is of course to all that is happening in Australia in the now going cricket series. Winding up 2018 with that win in Melbourne to take a 2-1 lead in the Test series was the high point. Indian cricket for once had taken a different image all together. With the fourth and final Test in Sydney ending at the mercy of nature's elements (rain intervened enough to put a full stop) the series finished on an anti-climactic note.
But the main point is India won the series decisively 2-1. It could have been 3-1, for the Aussies were forced to follow on and had it not been for the rain, may be the home team was in for a greater embarrassment. Whichever way, the Indians have achieved what they have never seen before - a Test series win in Australia.
How times have changed! It is never easy to beat an opponent in its home territory, is a common refrain in cricketing circles. And when it is Australia it is even more difficult, considering the spirit with which sporting contests are held in that country. Two things had happened this time. One, the rising stature of Indian cricket, thanks to hard work, discipline and the growing self belief in the players' mind of their skills and two the dent in the Australian cricketing strength, because of the ball-tampering scandal that rocked the sport in that country.
Of the three cricketers who paid the price for this episode, two of them at least - Steve Smith and David Warner - by their absence have done the major damage. Warner is always a dependable opener who invariably fires his team to a great start and Smith is a kind of player who can build an innings. That is the kind of batting thrust Australia clearly missed even if it had a strong bowling line up.
As for India, the biggest plus point was the way pacers have come up to form a formidable force, something even a great player like Sir Vivian Richards acknowledged the other day. Known for his forthright approach in his batting during his playing days when West Indies cricket was a terror to any opposition, Richards felt Indian pace attack had come a long way to add to India's spin strength.
Indeed, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma gave a great account of themselves in pushing the opposition on the backfoot and helping India move from strength to strength. No praise can be too high for this tireless trio. Yet above all this there was this one batsman who deserved to be specially mentioned in India's scheme of things.
No, we are not talking of the proven Virat Kohli or Ajinkya Rahane or even Rohit Sharma but the unassuming but ever dependent Chetershwar Pujara. If his approach, his skills and his effectiveness at the crease reminded many of the 'Wall', Rahul Dravid, then they were not wrong. This Saurashtrian has all the credentials to make Dravid proud. It is doubtful if we have in Indian cricket today and skipper Kohli included, any other batsman who has this hunger for runs and ability to cling on to achieve that end!
With three centuries in this series Pujara truly got himself into a select band (good, he did not score a single triple century and leave it at that! For, one can never say after seeing what happened to another cricketer by the name Karun Nair!) and what is more, was more than instrumental in getting India to a position where the bowlers could do the rest.
Pujara may not have the dash of say Kohli. He may not be as demonstrative or a bundle of emotions as Kohli. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a trace of strain on Pujara's face. Caution is his watchword and once into the groove, his wrists and his hawk eyes blend well with his skills to counter any attack, pace or spin.
Critics would label him as a one-dimensional player, who cannot open out like in a limited overs contest, but this Sourashtrian is hardly worried about that. To him, Test matches are the ultimate test of character of a cricketer. With triple and double centuries aside from simple centuries in Ranji and other representative cricket, this well-moulded player has every quality that would make a coach proud. In his case this coach and mentor is his father Arvind Pujara, a former Ranji player himself. Even today every aspect of his technique is analysed by his father for the tips later.
With 18 Test Centuries already in his kitty, Pujara could well change gears and show his penchant, a hallmark of his performances in domestic cricket, for the big scores. Who knows we may have a big run machine in our midst and Indian cricket would be the richer by this wonderful gem.
So cricket has ensured that the year 2019 has begun well for Indian sports. And there is still more to come from the cricketers in Australia. After levelling the T20 series earlier and now having picked up the Test series what remains is the One-Day contest. Unbeaten so far, can India finish off the tour in style? Lovers of cricket would settle for nothing less!