No sooner had Ravindra Jadeja got Jake Ball caught at gully on Day 5 of the final Test at Chennai than Karun Nair, who took the catch, ran towards the stumps, uprooted one and set off in a wild celebration. It was perhaps fitting that the two best players of the match were involved in the wicket that sealed the deal for India.
Captain Virat Kohli got hold of another stump and put in a huge leap, pumping his fist in the air at the same time. Ravindra Jadeja just shook hands. The joy on the faces of everybody was palpable though. The win was sweet. Sweet because it was one that this exuberant bunch of boys had earned through sheer hard work rather than being handed on a platter.
Going into lunch on the fifth day, it looked as if the match was heading for a draw with England at 97/0. But India didn't relent. They had the belief. They had the hunger. 3-0 wasn't enough for them. They wanted 4-0. After the break they went in with the determination of a salmon swimming upstream. That determination transformed into relentless pressure and England caved in on a "still reasonably good batting pitch" on the final day.
The final session of the series was a testament to the insatiable hunger that India possessed throughout the series. This is the sort of spirit that Steve Waugh's Australia possessed in the 1990s. This is the sort of drive that Ricky Ponting's Australia displayed in the 2000s. And this is the sort of spirit that seems to have made Virat Kohli's team nearly invincible as it had made those under Waugh and Ponting.
Four out five tosses lost. No rank turners. Spinners proved their class. The pacers outbowled their opponents. Batsmen showed application and depth. Four out of five matches won. Two matches won, that too by an innings, on the trot even after the opponent scored 400 in their first essay. And what do we have? The longest unbeaten streak in India's Test history. Is there doubt then that India are the No 1 Test side?
Kohli said after the series win at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai that if you were a champion team, you had to play like one to win series. That's what India did. And almost every ingredient needed to be a champion side was on display in this series against England.
Rajkot brought out India's resilience. Vizag showed India's ability to bounce back and their incisiveness. Mohali displayed India's never say die attitude. Mumbai showcased India's insatiable hunger and Chennai exhibited India's ruthlessness.
For most of the first Test, India were on the back foot. They were not used to this. England had scored over 500 runs in the first innings, and in the fourth innings, on the final day, on a tricky track, India were in a precarious situation at 71/4. But it was the captain who led from the front with a restrained knock to churn out a draw, with help from Jadeja. It was a different challenge and new things were learnt.
"Well, at least we know how to draw games now," Kohli who made 49 not out in the second innings, said after the match. "Before that, some people obviously were sceptical about our side knowing how to draw games. We won games or we lost games. It was a challenging situation but one that we countered really well, I thought," he added.
India's five-match winning streak was broken. Maintaining a winning streak is a challenge but more challenging is to recuperate from a stutter because you are not used to setbacks.
Vizag provided a test of India's ability to bounce back, something they haven't encountered for a long time. They started off well to take a 200-run lead but stuttered in the second innings. But Kohli again came to the team's rescue, playing what was probably his best innings of the series - 81 on a difficult track, after a strong England fightback. And then, India countered England's defiance - in particular Alastair Cook and Haseeb Hameed's blockathon - with relentless pressure and broke the visitors' spine and made them crumble. Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin were tireless while the pacers applied the finishing touches. 1-0.
Mohali was all about continuing the momentum. Another toss was lost, two in three matches, but the pacers set the platform, bowling England out for 283. In reply, India were in a spot of bother at 204/6 before Ashwin, Jadeja and Jayant Yadav 'killed' the visitors softly with a combined total of 217 runs to afford India a crucial lead of 134 runs.
It frustrated England. India had posted more than 400 despite losing the toss. The trio of Jayant, Ashwin and Jadeja then got into the act with the ball, claiming a combined seven wickets in England's second innings, putting India firmly on the path to victory on a sporting Mohali track. The pitch debate now seemed done and dusted, and the toss debate started to look innane. 2-0.
"I think it's exactly been 12 months about us playing on unfair pitches and the question has turned itself," Kohli said after the match. "So we don't need to say much about the pitches. We are a team that is focused on playing good cricket to win sessions and situations, or if we are in trouble, come back out of those tough situations."
Mumbai was all about sealing the series. You wouldn't want to give the opposition a sniff. England had won their last two Tests at the Wankhede. They won the toss and put up 400 on the board. That didn't deter India's pursuit of perfection as Kohli and Jayant batted the visitors out of the game with a 241-run stand. The clinical performance just deflated England again and there was no coming back for the visitors from that position. 3-0
"The lead was never in mind at that stage, we just wanted to get close to 400. Things shaped up nicely, and then we thought a 40-50 run lead will be great," Kohli said after the match. "But eventually, we got 231 on them...Yes, you can bat for longer periods than what you might have thought initially. If you're focused on what the team needs, you don't realise, you don't feel the tiredness, you don't feel the fatigue. It's all about what the team wants, and in that process, you can go on for longer than what you think otherwise," Kohli added.
In Chennai, it was all about adding insult to England's injury. But again, Kohli lost the toss, again England piled up a 400-plus total (477). You sensed this could be the match England would salvage some pride. However, the hosts were in no mood to relent as they adopted a ruthless approach to shatter record after record and made the visitors chase leather.
England's strong start to the second innings increased the chances of a draw. But to the disappointment of most journalists who were already halfway through their analyses and reports, England succumbed to India's incessant pressure. 4-0. In a match where Kohli and Ashwin were uncharacteristically off colour, the rest of the team put their hands up to deliver the goods, which showcased India's bench strength.
Every Test offered a decent track and India scored 400 or more after having lost the toss four times in the series. No other team have done this before. And so the toss wasn't a huge factor either.
India's batsmen averaged 48.23 compared to 31.08 by their England counterparts. Their spinners averaged 32.21 with four five-fors and two ten-wicket hauls while their England counterparts averaged 48.10 with not a single five-for. India's pacers averaged 37.95 as opposed to 50.95 by the England pacers. Despite numerous injury concerns for the home side, England were outclassed in every department.
More than anything else, it was a complete team performance by India. When in need, someone or the other put his hand up and delivered. Kohli, coach Anil Kumble and the back room staff have made this a tough, compact and united group. Everyone enjoys and celebrates each other's success. The injured Mohammad Shami, Wriddhiman Saha, Ajinkya Rahane and Hardik Pandya were flown in to join the series victory celebrations.
"I would say it's a complete performance from the time we were put under pressure in the first game, to coming back and winning the next four Tests," Kohli said after the Chennai Test.
"We lost four tosses, including Rajkot but won three games out of that, (which) is very satisfying. As a captain, I feel it's a complete series for us. Everyone contributed at different times, especially the lower order's contribution is something that stands out for me in this series," he added.
Five Test series wins in a row. Eighteen matches undefeated. India are indeed playing like a champion side. They are looking unstoppable at the moment, but Kohli is not satisfied.
"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," Kohli said after the Chennai win.
And these are ominous signs for Bangladesh and Australia, who would visit this neck of the woods next year.
Your guide to the latest cricket World Cup stories, analysis, reports, opinions, live updates and scores on https://www.firstpost.com/firstcricket/series/icc-cricket-world-cup-2019.html. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates throughout the ongoing event in England and Wales.
Updated Date: Dec 21, 2016 12:42:44 IST