Why is Team India’s victory in Australia so special? It’s the first Test series win in Australia in 71 years; the first by an Asian country. And when Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan congratulates the Indian team, you know it is an exceptional achievement. Because he knows his cricket, having captained Pakistan to the 1992 World Cup triumph in Australia and New Zealand. By many measures, this win is a milestone for Indian cricket.
It’s also liberating for cricket enthusiasts like me, who have spent years wringing our hands in frustration, as teams from India repeatedly foundered Down Under. Virat Kohli’s team not only ended our misery, but also engendered hopes of a win in South Africa, which is now the only unconquered overseas series.
How did Kohli’s team conjure up the 2-1 win? To me, it is the bowling. In the past, Indian teams would boast of a strong batting line-up, but the bowling was not always good enough to dismiss the opposition twice. That’s no longer the case. The pace bowlers have consistently clocked in excess of 140km/h, and the pack led by Jasprit Bumrah is now being hailed as one of the most feared attacks today. And the stats back it up.
The spin has depth and variety. When off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was injured, left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja stepped up to the plate. So did chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav. Their incisiveness was a decisive factor.
The signs were promising in South Africa and England, last year. True, India lost both series, but the bowlers’ brave performance didn’t go unnoticed. They won a Test each in both series, but the fragile batting prevented them from building on the bowlers’ success.
It is here that Cheteshwar Pujara comes in. In the first Test in Adelaide, India were looking down the barrel at 41 for 4 by the 21st over — a familiar sight. That’s when Pujara produced the innings of his life. His rich vein of form that fetched three centuries in four Tests was the cornerstone of the team’s victory — a feat no Indian team has managed so far. Not even when the Australians were depleted by the exodus to the Packer Series. The Packer Super Tests robbed Australia of all its stars except Jeff Thomson. Bobby Simpson was recalled from retirement to lead the side against Bishen Bedi’s team in 1977-78. But the famed Indian spin quartet couldn’t prevent the Australians from winning the series 3-2. Allan Border’s side was one of the weakest sides India have faced on Australian soil. The 1986 series could well have produced India’s first win in Australia. But Border and Geoff Lawson thwarted Kapil Dev’s side’s bid for victory with some help from the rain. Since then, apart from occasional Test wins, the Indians never looked like winning a series in Australia.
Now that gives an idea of the enormity of Team India’s win. So Kohli’s boys deserve all the applause and adulation.
Passion and competitiveness
In Kohli, the team have a captain who leads by example. He is not yet an astute tactician; he’s admittedly made mistakes in team composition and ringing bowling changes. But he’s learning swiftly. His exuberance can get the better of him. It may not be to everyone’s liking. But there’s no doubting his passion and competitiveness. And it has delivered results.
A tour of Australia is always tough. The wickets are pacy and bouncy, the fast bowlers fiery. They can test the technique and temperament of the most skilful batsmen. The stadiums are huge and the crowd partisan.
The lively pitches call for adjustments in approach and technique. While bowlers have to alter the length of deliveries to make allowance for the bounce, batsmen will have to be strong off the back foot. For cricketers raised on docile strips in the subcontinent, the wickets offer a multitude of challenges. That’s what makes the win sweeter.
So, is this India’s best win? The answer will depend on whom you ask. Team India coach Ravi Shastri says it is as big or bigger than the 1983 World Cup win, but others say the victory at Lord’s was a turning point. If you look back further, you will find that 1971 was a watershed year. The first series win in the West Indies was followed by another in England.
This maiden series win in Australia should rank at the top, along with the 1983 World Cup triumph and those first away wins in England and the Caribbean.
Seven decades is a long time for a cricketing giant, a country that has held the top spot in Test rankings. It was good to set the record straight finally. For the first time, India have a bunch of bowlers who can win matches. The batting needs more steel and grit and patience. It will come. Because this Team India have confidence and belief. They can only get better.