The ruthless demolition of Afghanistan was a telling reminder of Indian cricket’s progress in terms of focus, determination and execution since those distant days of 1970s.
In the late 1970s when Australian media mogul Kerry Packer wrecked national cricket teams of most nations by signing up their best players, second-rate Australian and West Indies teams were pressed into service for the tough tour of India.
The home team which was at full strength had a wonderful opportunity to virtually whitewash both visitors in the 12 Tests played. But India’s mindset was so defensive that they were thrilled to come away with meagre 1-0 verdict in both series.
What a stark contrast and pleasant surprise it was, therefore, to see the current Indian squad, the world’s number one Test team, take a hard-nosed approach and give no quarters in their merciless take down of Test debutants Afghanistan.
Certainly it was this aggressive mindset that was responsible for India finishing the Test in under two days. They gave Afghanistan a hiding they would not forget for a long time.
In earlier times, Indian captains would have succumbed to deploying non-regular bowlers or even get a non-regular to keep wickets. However, there was none of those concessions granted this time. The five main bowlers were relentlessly pressed into service and they ensured that opposition batsmen would be under the cosh at all times. The fielding too was sharp and looked a far cry from the days when players goofed up when the team had the upper hand.
Thus, even in the slaughter of Afghanistan, there were plenty of positives to relish.
The foremost was the manner in which Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja bowled. Ashwin, thankfully, resisted any temptation to experiment with leg spin and other assorted gimmicks and stuck to his core competence. He got his deliveries to drift at times. The loop that was so characteristic of his bowling not so long ago was back in full force. He, like Jadeja, stuck to aggressively bowling at the stumps.
This ensured that the pair was at the batsmen all the time. The classical manner in which Ashwin got a couple of batsmen bowled through the ‘gate’ was a result of this strategy besides being a true joy to behold. His tantalising length and drift drew the batsman forward while sharp, well-directed spin eluded the descending bat and went between bat and pad to crash into the stumps.
Should Ashwin bowl in a similar manner he will be a handful on the England tour. Jadeja too bowled at the right pace to get the ball to grip the surface. Importantly there was competition among all bowlers to get amongst the wickets and hence there was unremitting pressure on the Afghans.
The manner in which this match was fought was a far cry from the inaugural Test of the other Test cricket debutants, Ireland. In that match last month, although the more experienced Pakistan team ultimately won by five wickets, it was Ireland that piled on pressure on occasions.
The first was when they put Pakistan in to bat and dismissed both openers in no time. Pakistan huffed and puffed from then on before the seventh wicket pair rescued them with a 117-run stand. Later, after enforcing the follow-on, they were taken aback by Kevin O’Brien’s brilliant century.
Ireland stayed competitive when they bagged three quick wickets to have Pakistan on the ropes. But Imam-ul-Haq helped them wriggle out of that tight spot.
In contrast, India had no such scare. Frankly, when far more accomplished teams from Australia and England have floundered on Indian soil, it would be have been naive to expect newcomers Afghanistan of having any real chance.
Shikhar Dhawan, who returned to form with an overtly aggressive century before lunch, and Murali Vijay, who made his own statement with a more sedate hundred, ensured that they would lay a strong and stable foundation to quell any real or imaginary threat.
Indian fielding too was outstanding, with Jadeja, Hardik Pandya, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, and Dhawan covering themselves with glory.
Additionally, Yadav and Sharma bowled superbly with the new ball to underline the fact that India had plenty of excellent resources in the fast bowling department.
The major sour point was Ajinkya Rahane’s continued failure with the bat. Unless he can be a lot more consistent with big scores it would make little sense to choose him over Cheteshwar Pujara. KL Rahul, who is growing by leaps and bounds as a cricketer once again proved his versatility by batting impressively at number three.
If he continues batting with similar aplomb, he’d take a load off the side’s number one batsman, Virat Kohli, when the Indian team engages England in England.
Meanwhile, while much could be said of India’s superiority over Afghanistan in terms of batting, bowling and fielding, the real positive to come out of the one-off Test was the unrelenting mindset of the team. Should they call upon similar intensity and merciless attitude in all their matches, they’ll win a lot more Tests at home and abroad. Now isn’t that a pleasant thought!