From lambs abroad to lions, India tame Australia
Virat Kohli has shown he is fair to his players, leads from the front as the No. 1 batsman in the world and has brought in a culture of fitness
It’s a test of character. That’s why it’s apt that the five-day game is called Test cricket. This Indian team led by Virat Kohli has shown plenty of character to become the first to win a series in Australia.
India came close to doing it in the 1977-78 series when Sunil Gavaskar scored three centuries, like Cheteshwar Pujara did this time around. Then they drew a series in 1981, with the equalizer coming in Melbourne where Kapil Dev blew away the Aussies with a 5 for 28 in the second innings.
The 1985 team that won the one-day world championship tournament in Australia should have won the Test series too. However, Alan Border’s Australia escaped twice with draws. In Melbourne, India dawdled to 59 for 2 in 25 overs on the final day before rain washed out play with only 67 needed for victory. The rain-affected final Test in Sydney ended in a draw after Australia followed on and lost six wickets.
The Sachin Tendulkar era began in the nineties. Despite some famous knocks by the new Little Master, India got thrashed 4-0 and 3-0 on two tours that decade.
Sourav Ganguly’s team did better this millennium, but allowed Steve Waugh to escape with a draw in the final Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January 2004. India batted into the third day to amass 705 for 7, with Tendulkar remaining not out on 241 and compounded that by not enforcing the follow on. Waugh had just four wickets in hand for a draw in the end.
Anil Kumble led a frustrating tour in 2008 marred by Steve Bucknor’s umpiring. India went 2-1 down despite a famous win in Perth.
M.S. Dhoni’s team got thrashed 4-0 in 2011-12. That series ended the careers of Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman, while Tendulkar carried on for two home series before hanging up his boots too. Young Virat Kohli wowed Australia with a century and 50 in the third Test when he finally got a look-in.
Kohli’s first tour to Australia as captain in 2014-15 produced two narrow losses and two draws. He went on to take India to the pinnacle of Test cricket by dominating visiting teams at home. Tours to South Africa, England and Australia last year presented a chance to remove India’s stigma of being lions at home, but lambs abroad.
India had opportunities but squandered them, losing 2-1 in South Africa and 4-1 in England. Selection fiascos such as leaving out Pujara from the first Test in England and defensiveness in the field with catching positions left vacant contributed to it.
However, the fighting spirit of this team and the coming of age of a potent pace bowling unit were evident on those tours. The contest in England was far closer than the scoreline suggests and India could easily have won 3-2 or even 4-1.
Kohli has shown he is fair to his players, leads from the front as the No. 1 batsman in the world and has brought in a culture of fitness. He combines well with coach Ravi Shastri to nurture young talent. He appears to acknowledge tactical mistakes and learn from them. He sets an example for doing whatever is needed for the team to succeed in any situation, making individual milestones secondary.
All this finally kicked in on the current Australia tour. Pujara, now the mainstay of the batting line-up, anchored the win in the opening Test with a century and a 50. India got the combination wrong in the next Test in Perth, overreacting to a green top by replacing the injured Ravichandran Ashwin with a fourth pacer, while Aussie offie Nathan Lyon collected eight wickets.
This Indian team doesn’t stay down. They came back strongly to score 400 plus and win the Melbourne Test. Then, with the mounting pressure of expectations of securing India’s first Test series win Down Under, India batted Australia out of the game with a 600-plus score in Sydney. It was a good toss to win, but it also took guts and determination to do that against a challenging bowling attack.
For all the talk about the Australian side being depleted by the absence of David Warner and Steve Smith, suspended after getting caught with ball-tampering in South Africa, the bowling line-up is the same one that blasted out the visiting England team just a year ago. It wasn’t only Pujara who blunted this attack with sound technique and discipline. Newbie Hanuma Vihari hung in there with him, weathering body blows from a barrage of short-pitched bowling for his 42 in 96 balls after India were 329 for 5. Then the young, talented Rishabh Pant curbed his natural aggression to get a century and bring the Aussie bowling to its knees.
Kohli’s captaincy improved too as the series unfolded—a bit too defensive on the field in Adelaide, erratic in selection for Perth, reluctant to enforce a follow-on with a lead of 292 in Melbourne, but spot on in the final Test. Young Kuldeep Yadav came in at last and justified his selection with a five-wicket haul. Mayank Agarwal followed up his fabulous Melbourne debut with another 50. Smart, attacking field positions helped dismiss Australia for 300 on a relatively easy wicket.
Luck played a hand too. India lost all five tosses in England and two out of the three tosses in South Africa. Teams batting last have struggled to win in recent years as wickets deteriorate over the course of the game.
The spin of the coin finally favoured Kohli in Australia where he won three out of the four tosses. Now, with India’s greatest overseas triumph under his belt, he has the confidence, the know-how and the diverse talents of his team to stay on top in what promises to be a golden era of Indian cricket.
India began touring in the summer of 1932. But it wasn’t until 36 years later, in 1968, that she registered her first Test win abroad on a cold February day in Dunedin, New Zealand. Ajit Wadekar anchored the batting with 50s in both innings, while Erapalli Prasanna announced the arrival of Indian spin with a match-winning six-wicket haul in the second innings. Tiger Pataudi’s men went on to win the series 3-1.
Wadekar, who took over the captaincy before the next tour, built on India’s new-found self-belief and spin formula to subdue the mighty West Indies, whose line-up had the who’s who of cricket—Roy Fredericks, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd and Garfield Sobers. The Indian victory came in the second Test at Port of Spain where debutant Sunil Gavaskar scored 50s in both innings. Gavaskar amassed 774 runs in four Tests, with four centuries and a double century, to keep the Windies at bay and register a 1-0 series win.
Wadekar’s team followed that up with a 1-0 series win in England, against one of the strongest teams of that period. Bhagwat Chandrasekhar’s 6 for 38 to bundle England out for 101 in the final Test sealed the deal. Despite the promise of a new dawn, a long hiatus of 15 years followed those rousing triumphs. India became world champions of one-day cricket in 1983 and finally registered another away series win in England in 1986. Captain Kapil Dev helmed the bowling with support from Roger Binny, while Dilip Vengsarkar anchored the 2-0 victory with back-to-back centuries.
After that, the only notable away series wins came in Pakistan in 2004, England in 2007, and New Zealand in 2009. Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and a depleted West Indies became happy hunting grounds, but to finally win in Australia, the first Asian team to do so, is the Kohinoor among these rare gems of away Test series victories. India finished 2-1 after rain saved Australia in Sydney, but this Indian Test team is now going to be hard to beat anywhere.
Sumit Chakraberty is an author and freelance writer based in Bengaluru.
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