New Delhi:Move over hockey, it is time to make cricket India's national game given the national team's performance, former India captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi has suggested.
"It's time that we make it (cricket) our national game and take that away from hockey," Pataudi said. Pataudi said the current team led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the best that the country has produced in a long time with all the players in peak form. "There is no doubt in my mind that this is probably the best team India has produced in a long time especially in home conditions," Pataudi said in an NDTV chat show.
"We never had two opening batsmen. The middle-order is clicking. Zaheer (Khan) is back in form, Harbhajan (Singh) is disciplined, Yuvraj (Singh) is focussed and Ishant (Sharma) is a good bowler," he added.
Dhoni's men -- along with South Africa -- are in the reckoning to replace a struggling Australia as the top Test side and Pataudi said the numero uno spot can be India's if it plays intense and consistent cricket.
"I was a bit disappointed with how India played in Mohali (during the Test series against England). If you have to be world champions, you have to play like world champions. Of course you can say it was a four-day match but Test matches have been won in four days. I think we let the Britishers off at Mohali.
"I think we should have put more pressure on them. Because if you want to be a world champion side, you have to keep putting pressure on the rival teams," Pataudi said.
India won the two-Test series 1-0 by virtue of their triumph in the Chennai Test after the Mohali Test ended in a draw.
Another former captain Sourav Ganguly, who was also part of the show, said it would be "a bit too early" to rank Dhoni's men as world's number one team.
Ganguly said India had a very good team but the "real test" would come when they play abroad where the conditions are different.
"To say that India would be number one, I think it's a bit too early. Look at the ICC points rankings, Australia, although they have not played good cricket for the last 3-4 months, they are still a few points away from the rest.
"India has a very good team but I believe this team's real test would be overseas, when India go to New Zealand and when they start travelling abroad. If you look at the last year, India has played a lot of cricket at home," Ganguly said.
Former Test skipper Abbas Ali Baig said what sets India apart from other cricket playing nations was its bench strength. He felt the team will not struggle to find replacements of greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
"There will be others coming along. I think we have a better bench strength than any other team. Australia lost two-three great players and they seem to be in wilderness to find substitutes. I think we are pretty much better off.
Ganguly had a different view and said it would be difficult to replace these stalwarts.
It will take a lot of time to replace the Tendulkars, Dravids, Kumbles and Laxmans. It has taken a period of time for what they have achieved," said Ganguly who ended his career with a Test aggregate of 7212 in 113 matches for an average of 42.17.
"One must also realise that when people like Gavaskar and Vengsarkar went, the Dravids, Tendulkars and Gangulys came. So there will be replacements. In India, there is so much talent.
But it will happen only with time. The young players should be given time to establish themselves and become match-winners," he added.
Baig felt Dhoni's inspirational leadership was instrumental in making India the cricketing force that it is right now.
"Dhoni's captaincy has made a lot of difference. He is not reactive but proactive and keeps the team in rhythm," he said.
Pataudi lauded the BCCI for taking the game to the grassroots level.
"I think the system has improved. Obviously it is not as we want it to be but the Board (BCCI) is making a conscious effort to provide facilities.
"We are finding players from Ranchi and from Najafgarh which is known more for its nullahs (drains) and not cricket.
We have only one batsman from Mumbai and that is Sachin Tendulkar," he pointed out.
Ganguly was also impressed with the improvement in the Indian cricket system and attributed the change to the huge money, which cricket administrators had at their disposal. "To be honest, the system has improved quite a lot. That's bound to happen. Things are bound to happen. Things progress. Indian cricket has had the luck to have money to run cricket.
"You can see that some of the stadiums which have been built, some of the facilities which are being provided to the Test playing centres. We last played Test in Nagpur and that's a fabulous venue for Test cricket," he said.
However, the former skipper said Indian cricket was able to produce champions even when a supportive system was not in place.
"The facilities being provided to the modern day cricketers were not the same when we started our careers in 1996. Even our predecessors started without these facilities.
"No system can be perfect. But Indian cricket has done well irrespective of the system. Sunil Gavaskar came in when we had no system. Kapil (Dev) came in when we did not have facilities to produce fast bowlers. But the system has gone from strength to strength," he said.