Cricket: India rediscovers its five-day zest

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INDIA'S convincing and compelling victory at Eden Gardens has been highly significant for their cricket in a number of ways. First of all, it has enabled Mohammad Azharuddin to retain the captaincy and it has also given the self-respect of Indian cricket as a whole a badly needed boost. Just as important, it has helped to restore faith in Test cricket in yet another part of the world in which it had begun to lose out seriously to the one-day game.

A decade ago Test cricket was played to full houses on just about all the Indian grounds, but the instant form of the game has since then steadily eroded this support. The greater excitement, the certainty of a result and the attendant razzmatazz have all helped to pack their grounds for the limited-overs game.

I cannot remember a Test match which has had such a one-sided look to it as this first Test in Calcutta and yet managed to produce constantly absorbing cricket. Almost 300,000 people came for the five days although obviously if it had not gone so well for India there would have been fewer.

As it was, they saw a wonderful game and a fair number must surely have been won back to Test cricket. The result will presumably encourage the locals to come and see their side in the two remaining Tests, in Madras and Bombay.

It is interesting, too, that although this was Azharuddin's 18th Test as captain, it was only his second as captain on Indian soil. Politics have caused the cancellation of two tours and the annual Australian World Series Cup involving three sides in addition to an otherwise congested fixture list for the Test-playing countries does not make it as easy as it used to be for India to find opponents able to visit them during their own season.

India therefore need more series of Test matches in their own country and, with a buoyant side relying on spin which is the traditional strength of Indian cricket, the future for the side and its supporters has not looked better for a long while. But it is no good having a good side if you cannot find anyone to play you.