“Every Test match, they bat first, they score 500, they declare when it’s dark, they get three wickets when it’s dark and when day three starts, you’re under pressure. It was like copy and paste in every Test match.”
These were the words of South Africa captain Faf du Plessis, who didn’t hold back on his frustration after seeing his side dismantled by India in a 3-0 whitewash in October.
du Plessis, whose fortunes weren’t aided by his absolutely hapless run at the toss, also had a suggestion on how to level the playing field: “(If the toss is done away with in overseas Tests) then away teams will have a better chance.”
How much it would’ve pinched du Plessis’ insides, then, to see the very next toss in a Test on Indian soil following South Africa’s departure being won by the opposition skipper!
Three days after Mominul Haque’s rare conquest of the coin, however, du Plessis – and anyone else questioning the method behind India’s madness of a run in home Tests – will probably have not a lot to offer in terms of a subsequent idea on how to stop this Indian machinery.
Just look at this Indore Test, and all that did go the opposition’s way: India lost the toss, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli combined to make six runs, and R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja had a combined haul of five wickets (two of which came at the tail-end of Bangladesh’s second innings).
Despite all that, an Indian record-equalling sixth successive Test win – and third successive innings win (another Indian record-equaliser) – was sealed and delivered inside three days. It took all of 241.5 overs, to be precise: only slightly more than half the quota that constitutes an entire Test match.
The cynical line of thinking – and you can bet your bottom dollar there will always be a lot of that in this part of the world – will still bring up the needless needles: South Africa’s touring party was among their most ordinary ever, Bangladesh lost to Afghanistan a couple of months ago, it’s one thing doing this at home and completely another away… you get the drift. But even in this hyper-critical, post-truth world: how much, really, can you refute history?
Under Virat Kohli, India have now claimed 10 innings wins (in 52 Tests) – more than the innings wins under any other Indian Test captain. Since Kohli took over the reins from MS Dhoni, India have lost one out of 26 Tests at home. In the entire history of Test cricket, only four men stand ahead of Kohli’s 32 wins as Test captain: Graeme Smith, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh and Clive Lloyd.
Those four names, arguably, are the four finest captains known to the longest format; at the very least, they are, indisputably, leaders of four of the strongest Test units ever. And the success rate of Kohli’s India, mind you, is second only to the two Australian setups (and only fractionally behind Ponting’s, at that).
A captain, remember, is only as good as the team (s)he leads – that adage has held true for each of the four extraordinary men named above, and it holds as true for Kohli at the moment.
Across generations, India have always had the luxury of possessing at least one, more often than not two, world-leading batsmen. Conventionally, India’s failures have coincided with the times their ‘big’ guns failed collectively. But on Friday, India posted more than 400 runs in a single day’s play for only the third time in their history – it was a day when the sum total of runs contributed by Messrs Sharma, Pujara and Kohli was 11.
Throughout time, India have held the fortune of boasting some of the most impactful spinners. Typically, India’s no-shows at home have coincided with the times their opponents managed to turn the Indian spinners over. Now, while that didn’t exactly happen at Indore, the fact that Messrs Ashwin and Jadeja together accounted for five wickets – only three of which were ‘proper’ batsmen – tells you India didn’t count on spin to win.
That, of course, is the defining difference between this Indian team and all others from any point in the past: a once-in-a-lifetime set of fast bowlers, fit to rank, as a unit, among the very best the game has seen over the years.
It reflects in the numbers at home as much as it does away. In the last three Tests, India have averaged 10.25 with the ball in the first 10 overs, while producing a wicket every 22.5 balls – unlike 2015/16/17, when Ashwin would start making the inroads with the new ball itself, the 16 wickets to fall in the first 10 overs of these last six innings have been shared among Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami. In this game at Indore, the pacers delivered 63.2% of India’s overs – when did you ever think pace would out-bowl spin in a home game for India?
Pace was obviously the foremost ‘hole’ that India needed to plug to set themselves along the path of being undisputed World No 1s in Test cricket, and boy is Kohli a blessed captain – and India a blessed nation – to be witnessing this fast-bowling assembly roaring together at the same time.
The thing with the real champion sides, the ‘generational’ teams, if one may, is that they plug even those gaps that could easily go unnoticed amidst a pool of exceptional performers/performances.
Remember how Ravindra Jadeja, maybe a year ago, looked as though he was the third-choice spinner, and not the safest bet to be slotted in at number seven? Remember how Ajinkya Rahane, till quite recently, was beginning to look like a slightly worrying cog in the middle of the batting wheel with his unexpectedly low returns for a prolonged period of time? And surely you remember how India couldn’t trust anyone to open the batting for them? That was a glaring miss in the setup.
Well, India now have a Mayank Agarwal, providing first innings starts for fun. He’s also been joined up top with Rohit Sharma, and while that experiment still remains in its testing period, the start has been promising.
Rahane, since the end of the Australia tour, has rediscovered his mojo with 573 runs in six Tests at an average of 81.85. And Jadeja? The bowling was never a problem, especially on subcontinental surfaces, but how about the batting? He’s presently on a run of three successive 50s, has crossed 30 in each of his last five innings, and has hit five 50s in nine innings all told in 2019. Nothing ‘bit-and-piece’ about him.
And then you have an Umesh, who’s tonked 56 runs from the 20 balls he’s been called upon to face this season – eight sixes, each of which has brought out a louder cheer and a broader collective grin from his dressing room than any of the record four double centuries in four Tests notched up by the specialist batsmen in the camp.
That’s what starts happening, isn’t it, when winning becomes a habit? Camps become happier spaces. This author didn’t have the privilege of watching the great West Indian side of the ‘70s and the ‘80s, but he does recall how much teeth Waugh’s or Ponting’s armies used to display. Seem familiar now, Indian fans?
Stop them, if you can. Catch them, if you can. At this moment, they are unstoppable – I dare say, unbeatable. At this moment, they are indomitable – I dare say, invincible.
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