Are you one of those who worries about the death of Test cricket? Do you talk about fancy ideas to keep Test cricket 'alive'? Do you think that we need a Test championship, or a multi-tier Test cricket league to add 'context' to every Test ever played?
There was hardly any context to the final Test against England at Chennai. Some even wanted this match to be scrapped, given the havoc created by cyclones in the lead up to the match. The series was already sealed. What’s the point of playing a 'dead rubber' anyway? The English players would have happily grabbed the option of going back to their families for an early Christmas.
With reluctance, they played anyhow and the scenes that unravelled over five days in the sultry Chennai weather at the historic Chepauk venue was a timely reminder of the nature of Test cricket. Like a limited edition car, each Test is cherishable. Every Test is unique in its ebbs and flows. Every Test has a chance to end up in the history books.
The score lines will reflect an emphatic win for India in Chennai. But as the team was scripting a memorable victory, one couldn’t help but notice a huge subplot. The architects of this win and also the series were rookies, who somehow managed to not look like one. It was one of those victories which are not just satisfying because of the nature of the win but also exciting for the future prospects it promises.
Karun Nair, KL Rahul, and Jayant Yadav were supposed to look like wide-eyed, nervous newcomers as per the script, but they rather appeared to be seasoned, mature, and almost brutal in their approach. Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Cheteshwar Pujara, Murali Vijay, and captain Virat Kohli are by no means veterans themselves, but they are taking the mantle of previous legends and carrying their legacy forward. This is a team that is finding a core that can play together for the good part of a decade. Few teams in world cricket can claim to have that luxury right now.
This team reminds in some way of Alan Border’s team that won the World Cup in 1987. Australia was finding it hard to regroup following the retirement of Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee and Greg Chappell in 1984. Border, like Kohli, took over the captaincy from his predecessor, who resigned as captain in the middle of a series. He relied on a core of unheralded youngsters to rebuild the team and eventually went on to win the World Cup.
The key players from that win included David Boon, Dean Jones, Craig McDermott and Steve Waugh, who all served Australian cricket for several years after that win and established them as the most dominant team of that era.
Kohli’s team has the right ingredients in place to repeat what Border’s team did and establish India as the team to beat in the coming years. This is a team that reflects the Kohli's hunger to win every game. While some teams of the past would have relaxed after a series win, this bunch never loses its intensity.
With a young team at his disposal, Kohli can really put his foot down and set minimum benchmarks of fitness, hard work and mental strength for every member of his team.
India was never short of young talent coming through the ranks. What the team lacked was a finishing school for youngsters to bridge that final gap between domestic and international cricket. These days, youngsters rub shoulders against international greats every year during IPL. They aren’t in awe of these big names when they see them at the international level.
As custodian of the A team, Rahul Dravid is helping youngsters graduate from 'promising' to 'world class'. Nair and Yadav, both key performers in this series, were part of the A team that toured Australia. Hardik Pandya ended that tour with an extra yard of pace, something you rarely see Indian bowlers do after they start playing at the international level. You have players of the quality of Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer waiting in the wings.
To end on a word of caution though, the real test for this team lies ahead. They say comfort zone is a great place, but nothing ever grows there. India has managed to achieve these results at the comfort of home or in away conditions that were not so alien to the players.
With expectations soaring high, the fans won’t settle for anything less than a series win when the team tours South Africa, England, and Australia next year. Better men have faltered at managing the expectations of adulating and unforgiving Indian fans.
As this team goes along, it is bound to face that inevitably disappointing loss and its real test will come in how the players handle it. Let’s wait and watch, nothing like an element of doubt in making an exciting trip even more engrossing.
Updated Date: Dec 22, 2016 09:33:12 IST