The Rajwada of Indore stands in the very heart of the old city, and it is there that the residents come at times of celebration; to bathe on the streets on Rangapanchami, or to watch the jhanki’s pass by on Anant Chaturdashi. But on Sunday, all the celebrations in the city were in progress some four kilometers away, on Race Course Road.
India turned the Holkar Stadium into their very own fortress, taking their win-loss record at the ground to 5-0 in ODIs (they have also won the only test that has been played there). Virat Kohli’s side was refulgent as they raised the flag of the series win against Australia, and celebrated their return to the No 1 rank in ODIs, complementing their top billing in Tests. But if the past exists to edify, there could be some concerns around the corner for India’s position.
The win at Indore sealed the sixth consecutive ODI series win since June 2016 for India. It is a flattering stat, but one that also warrants some closer examination. The run started with a clean sweep against Zimbabwe, in a team led by MS Dhoni. Then came a 3-2 win against New Zealand at home, followed by a 2-1 win against the visiting England. India’s second away win in this period came in the Caribbean, where they beat the Windies 3-1, followed by another series win on foreign shores against Sri Lanka. Finally, there is this 3-0 win against Australia, a margin few predicted at the start of the series.
Without taking any credit away from the team, it must be noted that these series were hardly played in foreign conditions. Pace, bounce and movement was what the West Indian bowlers were famous for, not their pitches.
In the Test arena as well, India’s strong run is bookended by two away series wins against Sri Lanka: the first in 2015, historic. The second — coming last month — almost robotic. In between, India beat the West Indies away, and dominated New Zealand, England and Australia at home, besides Bangladesh.
There are many similarities to 2011, when India were crowned kings of the ODI format, and were in possession of the No 1 Test ranking since 2009. From October 2008 to August 2011, they lost just three and won 15 of the 30 Tests they played. They notched up series wins at home against England and Sri Lanka, two against Australia, and away wins against New Zealand and Bangladesh.
But we all know what happened next.
An ageing team was handed 4-0 drubbings by England and Australia on foreign shores. To further twist the buried knife, England beat 2-1 India at home in 2012. It was as if the school bully had snatched the No 1 rank from India, torn it to shreds, and thrown it to the wind. And pundits once again decried wins earned at home as the determining factor in crowning the No 1 team.
Part of the blame lies with the ICC ranking system. The rankings do a good job of taking into account the most recent results: each team earns points based on their performances over four years, with the first pair of years contributing only 50% to the rating points, and the more recent pair, 100% . But they do not differentiate between home and away results, instead awarding points based on the difference in the rating points of the two sides. This means that a side that is strong at home but equally weak abroad can still rise to the top of the table given they play enough matches at home in the four year period, and more so in the most recent two years.
The Indian team of today find themselves in a similar situation. Their stay on top of the ODI ranking is likely to be just a dalliance, given that only one point separates them and South Africa, who play Bangladesh next. In the Test Championship though, India have a 15 point lead. But even that might be difficult to defend given their itinerary.
India play three tests against South Africa early next year, followed by an endless summer; first five Tests in England, and then two tours to the Southern Hemisphere , to Australia and New Zealand.
Which brings us to the question: will we see a repeat of the slide of 2011-12?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. The key difference between the two sides is the time of day: the squads of 2011-12 were in the twilights of their careers, whereas Virat Kohli’s team is younger, fitter, with a number of players threatening to have the season of their lives. Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar have inspired confidence in the fast bowling department with their strong performances, even on dustbowls. India’s rotation policy has kept them much fresher than the tired legs of Zaheer Khan, who spearheaded India’s attack six years previous. The batters beyond Kohli, most notably Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane, have shown the nous to score runs away from home. And the ODI team has shown itself protean enough to perform on any continent, aided by the increasing uniformity in pitches around the world. So it will be with more hope that India head on their sojourns next year, intent to buck the trend of teams being poor travelers in the last two years.
Mark Twain is believed to have said, ‘History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme’. There is a familiarity about the tune that has been building up over the last two years, you have heard it before. But come 2019, you might see Kohli’s India to write different words to the ending of the song.