Gary Kirsten had an intense conversation with senior Indian team members after his side lost an away series against Sri Lanka in July-August 2008. According to a member of that team, then India coach had laid down the marker: concede another series in the next two years and put your World No. 1 ambition to rest. Between August 2008 and November 2009, India had beaten Australia, England and Sri Lanka at home, and New Zealand away, to take the ICC Test mace. They retained it for the next 21 months before a tame surrender in England in the summer of 2011.
Success under Kirsten had been built around the galacticos—Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble. MS Dhoni, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh served as hugely vital components. The former South Africa opener didn’t renew his contract after the 2011 World Cup and his departure coincided with the greats gradually walking into a golden sunset. India under Duncan Fletcher failed to handle transition properly and imploded.
Virat Kohli’s team doesn’t have the showstoppers of the ‘Fab Six’ vintage. They have risen to the top banking on collective effort. This is a young and relatively inexperienced unit. So the ascent has to be more satisfying.
This team started their winning sequence in Sri Lanka last year and now they have won four Test series in a row. They are unbeaten in 13 Tests. They had rallied to beat Sri Lanka in their lair; on seaming pitches. They dominated to wrap up the four-match series 2-0 on drab decks in West Indies this year. The victory against a good and fighting New Zealand side on a greenish Eden Gardens strip in the recently concluded three-match series confirmed India’s progress under Kohli. Calling them a spin-track bully would be an unfair assessment.
“We can’t think of external factors. We never do. Our aim is to win games of cricket anywhere and everywhere we play. We have shown that over the past one-and-a-half-years. So we don’t go out there to prove anything to anyone… That we have a challenging win and we have to win because people are asking questions. We are doing our job, people are doing theirs. That’s how the balance goes.
“We understand our abilities. We have enough belief in our abilities to play good cricket anywhere. Not putting pressure of winning on challenging wickets, but believing in ourselves to execute our plans to the best of our abilities,” the skipper had said after the Kolkata Test. Spot on.
You might say that this team thrives in Ravi Ashwin’s spin-punch in helpful conditions. Between
August 12, 2015, and October 11, 2016, the off-spinner has accounted for 96 scalps at 16.65 in 14 Tests. He has now won the Man-of-the-Series for four consecutive times. The 30-year-old might be the most important cog in India’s bowling wheel, like Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane form the cornerstone of India’s batting, but every player has contributed to the golden run.
Rohit Sharma’s 72-ball 50 in the second innings at SSC last year provided a perfect example. India had slumped to 7/3 and without Rohit’s game-changing cameo, the team wouldn’t have returned triumphant. And the Mumbai batsman’s 82 against the Kiwis at Eden Gardens a fortnight ago was a joy to watch.
The team management allowed him the extra leeway to sort out his Test problems. And Rohit has started to repay the faith.
Spare a thought for Ravindra Jadeja. The left-arm spinner had lost his place in the Indian team. He regained it by dint of his performance in domestic cricket. His 23 wickets at 10.82 in four home Tests against South Africa last year came on dustbowls. But a tally of 14 wickets
in three matches against New Zealand on far better pitches attested a strong presence. Jadeja’s 42 not out in the first innings at Green Park proved to be pivotal.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar had two five-fors in his last two completed Test matches. India won on both occasions. Cheteshwar Pujara responded brilliantly to his slow-going criticism by scoring 373 runs at a strike-rate of 50.20 against the Blackcaps. Shikhar Dhawan’s 84 in
Antigua had set up India’s charge in the first Test in West Indies. KL Rahul’s emergence added teeth to India’s top-order batting. Amit Mishra had 15 wickets at 15.00 in three Tests in Sri Lanka last year and even Gautam Gambhir, back to the fold after two years, made a 56-ball half-century, as India played for declaration on the final day of the Test series against New Zealand.
And then, there’s Wriddhiman Saha, the quietest of them all. He scored his maiden Test hundred at Gros Islet under serious pressure. It helped him “clear some self-doubts”. The twin half-tons in Kolkata were match-turning. Saha’s career is all about playing the waiting game. He never complained. Now, he is reaping the benefits of his patience. His keeping has always been world-class.
“This is a proper team series win. It wasn’t just one individual,” Kohli said after securing the 3-0 whitewash against New Zealand. He summed it up very well.
England will present a tougher challenge in the coming months. They are steadily improving under Trevor Bayliss. Kohli’s boys will carry the confidence of their Test supremacy. Roll on the blockbuster…