The triple century at Chepauk might have helped Karun Nair achieve overnight stardom, but it doesn’t guarantee him a place in the XI when India play their next Test, against Bangladesh from February 8 next year in Hyderabad. Ajinkya Rahane will return and when a batsman of his pedigree is fit, he walks in. Whether the team management will tweak the combination and will incorporate an extra batsman at the expense of a spinner is a matter of conjecture and also a happy problem for the future. For the moment, we must celebrate the excess of riches.
Nair wouldn’t have played against England if Rahane was fit. He came as a backup and scored a triple ton in his third Test innings. Jayant Yadav took to the longest format of the game like a duck to water, scored a Test hundred coming at No 9 and bagged nine wickets in the 81.3 overs he bowled at an average of 29.55. Parthiv Patel returned to the Test fold after an eight-year hiatus when Wriddhiman Saha picked a left thigh injury. The diminutive left-hander scored two half-centuries opening the innings and finished the series with an average of 65.00. He had been steady behind the stumps as well, the odd dropped catches notwithstanding. In fact, he offered a better balance with his all-round ability. Ishant Sharma, the senior-most of the Indian fast bowlers, played only one Test in the five-match series because there was no vacancy. Mohammed Shami’s injury forced India to alter their pace attack. Virat Kohli and R Ashwin were the X-factors in batting and bowling respectively, but overall, the 4-0 drubbing attested India’s cricketing depth which their opponents lacked.
India have now won five series on the bounce under Kohli. They are unbeaten in 18 Tests. And the International Cricket Council (ICC) has announced a Test team of the year that doesn’t feature Kohli! Alastair Cook has been given the captaincy despite losing eight Tests in 2016. Cook’s England Test captaincy hangs in the balance and it’s very likely that Joe Root will take charge sooner rather than later. But the ICC revels in being a laughing stock— forget the performance period; September 14, 2015 to September 20, 2016. Or, we should rather applaud the global body for providing relentless hilarity. “2016 should mean 2016, not 2/3 of it. Cook being made ‘Captain of the Year’ after this 4-0 India fiasco is an absolute farce,” British TV presenter Piers Morgan rightly pointed out in a tweet.
Don’t think Kohli gives a hoot to the ICC selection. He has had more serious business of building on the success and make his team a serious force in all conditions. His comment after seeing off the Poms confirmed levelheadedness. “This is just the foundation that’s been laid for us to carry on for lot many years. It’s just the beginning. It’s nothing that we want to achieve; it’s not even a tiny bit of that. We understand where we want to go and hopefully, the guys can keep putting this kind of effort and take the team where it belongs.”
Winning outside Asia has to be the ultimate goal but we would come to that later. The England team and their problems deserve a mention.
Gone are the days when the majority of the British media used to work on a fixed template during England’s tours of India. Off the field issues—from cockroaches in hotel rooms to Delhi belly and flight delays—used to fill column inches, masking the teams’ on-field deficiencies. This country now boasts of better cricket infrastructure than England. Facilities are world-class and fair pitches had been rolled out for the just-concluded five-Test series. So a great deal of ire is being directed towards Cook. Maybe, the skipper is now realising the hard way what Kevin Pietersen had gone through after the 2013-14 Ashes humiliation Down Under. Cook was a reason why Pietersen had been frozen out after the series under the pretext of keeping the change room harmony. And how badly England missed Pietersen’s class in India! The South Africa born cricketer led England’s fightback during the side’s 2012-13 tour here with a scintillating hundred at Wankhede. The visitors rallied to win the rubber 2-1. Without him, England were bereft of a match-winner this time.
Cook appears to be the latest scapegoat. Yes, his captaincy was typically defensive and reactive. He won four tosses but couldn’t capitalise on the opportunities. To be honest, the tourists simply didn’t have the wherewithal to win the series. Winning in India with Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid as the two frontline spinners bordered on the impossible. India have at least six-seven spinners in the Ranji Trophy who are better than the English duo.
More significantly, and refreshingly, India also outpaced their rivals. Umesh Yadav and Shami were faster than Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes, and more accurate. England were outplayed and outclassed in all departments of the game. Maybe, more than anything else, England need to get rid of their Ashes obsession to become a force to reckon with in Asia. They need to treat every series equally.
Back to Kohli and his Indian team, and the progression will depend on their performance outside the subcontinent. They are still being unfairly called a spin-track bully despite their success on seaming pitches in Sri Lanka and unresponsive decks in West Indies. But to shed the poor travellers tag, they have to win in England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The team’s head coach Anil Kumble was an integral part of Sourav Ganguly’s India—a unit that took massive pride in winning overseas. Kohli, too, appears very keen to improve India’s away record. So the current bunch is expected to move in the desired direction.
Finally, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) deserves at least some credit for spreading the game across the length and breadth of the country and maintaining a very vibrant domestic setup that churns out finished products. Selectors tap into the talent pool. Even for a low-profile Ranji Trophy match at Wayanad, Dindigul, Kalyani or Bilaspur (Himachal Pradesh), at least one selector always drops in. The Indian Test team that has climbed to the top of the ICC rankings, is the front end. The BCCI and selection committee work behind the scenes. Their efforts have ensured that young Indian cricketers remain committed to the purest form of the game. Yes, contrary to popular perception, almost every budding Indian cricketer still considers Test cricket his Holy Grail.