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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 January, 2004, 13:50 GMT
Indians praise heroes

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News Online correspondent in Delhi

Indian cricket fans reckon their cricket team is a tough and transformed unit which has finally found its place among the best in the world.

Indian fans at the SCG
India fans had much to cheer as the visitors kept the series trophy

There was some regret in this cricket-crazy nation about India not being able to pull off a win in the final Test against Australia, instead having to settle for a drawn match and series.

But most fans and former cricketers feel India's gritty and aggressive performance Down Under suggests a corner has been turned.

"We performed fabulously. I am more than satisfied with India's performance," former Test opener Arun Lal told the BBC.

"Now there is a sense of belief among Indians that we belong with the best now. It is about taking on the best team in the world in their country and putting up such a great performance."

Despite India not winning the series, Lal said India tallied "lots and lots of pluses".

"Anil Kumble reinvented himself as a strike spinner, Ajit Agarkar became a responsible spearhead, Irfan Pathan was discovered as a good bowler and we found Akash Chopra a solid opener," he said.

"The biggest revelation is that VVS Laxman is easily among the top five or six batsmen in the world today."

India captain Sourav Ganguly
Not enforcing the follow-on was very defensive. Ganguly showed a lack of confidence in his bowlers
Delhi journalist Alam Srinivas

Delhi-based former Test cricketer and selector Kirti Azad said Indians should laud their team's efforts.

"Aussies are world champions. Taking them on was a Herculean task. Yet India did it, put them under pressure and drew the series," he said.

"India managed to put pressure on Australia like no other team has done in many years."

By drawing the Test series, India retained the Gavaskar-Border Trophy as they had defeated Australia in the previous home series in 2001.

"The series was a moral victory for India. They came out right on top," said Snehashis Ganguly, ex-cricketer and brother of India captain Sourav.

Some ardent fans, however, felt India would have pulled off a historic win in Sydney had they enforced the follow-on.

Delhi-based journalist Alam Srinivas feels Ganguly's "defensive" captaincy may have cost India.

"Not enforcing the follow-on was very defensive. It showed a lack of confidence in his bowlers," said Srinivas.

"A follow-on would have put real pressure on the Aussies."

But ex-cricketer Azad feels Ganguly did the right thing "under the circumstances".

"The main strike bowler Kumble had bowled a major spell and was tired. The other spinner Murali Karthik was not getting his rhythm, so the decision was correct," said Azad.

Others like Delhi-based marketing executive Rathin Basu felt India's "poor" bowling had helped the Aussies.

"You cannot win matches against Australia with such pedestrian bowling. Kumble was the only bowler who had some bite," Basu said.

But most fans like Calcutta-based businessman Subhojit Majumdar said India had seldom played better in recent years.

"This series has been a great toughening experience. Our boys did not succumb to Australia's psychological offensive and behaved and played like pros," he said.

"And is there any doubt now that Ganguly is the greatest India captain ever?"

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