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An hour and a half after the umpires called off the match, a mere formality given the intermittent bursts of rain on Sunday, the ceremonials began without any semblance of a celebratory mood, punctuated with a few scattered claps in a near deserted stadium. Forgets crackers and champagnes, there weren’t even souvenir stumps to collect. It was just a hurriedly arranged low-key function — where even the advertisement board had to be whisked away from the press conference room — attended by the coaches, skippers and teams, where everyone just wanted to wrap up the function as hastily as they could and maybe hit the Maracas beach in the afternoon.
All of them involved repeated what they had been repeating all through the tour — Kohli about fight and aggression and Holder about the improved focus and commitment. A few handshakes and hugs, more out of ritual than mutual warmth, they rushed off in their team buses back to the hotel.
It was a sombre end to a predictably one-sided series, with action spread over just 12 out of a possible 20 days. By the time the teams reached the most historic ground in the Caribbean, the series was sewn up, though there were stakeholders wanting the match to run its full, normal course. One of them was Ravichandran Ashwin, who will have to bide his time for completing his 200th Test wicket. Not that he will be unduly worried about the milestone — not with a beeline of 16 Tests waiting at home from next month — but the number would have given a wholeness to what has been a remarkable series for him. When his batting utility was as much pronounced as his bowling efficacy.
Though the 17-wicket haul wouldn’t comprehensively snuff out those doubts — the wiseacres wouldn’t be convinced until and unless he replicates such-like efforts in England, South Africa or Australia — Ashwin has continued to metamorphose. Even if you weave in the appalling inadequacies of the West Indies batsmen, 17 at wickets 23.17 in any series any condition or against any opponent is worthy of being bracketed among series-defining masterclasses. Equally, if not more, treasured will be the two hundreds at number six, both coming his team in a fair bit of distress.
He was a runaway contender for claiming the man of the series cheque, his third in succession. Without any iota of exaggeration or snap judging, the all-rounder burden sits comfortably on his shoulders — it was not just a series of Ashwin the bowler, it was a series for Ashwin the all-rounder, that prized and elusive quotient in Indian cricket. As much comforting was the assurance Wriddhiman Saha showcased while accomplishing his maiden Test hundred in St Lucia.
To Kohli, Saha’s century was the biggest positive of the series. “For me, the biggest positive is Saha getting runs in the lower order, plus Ashwin coming good at No. 6. Those were the areas for us to solidify because these are the positions which matter a lot in Test cricket. If you see, in teams which have done consistently well in Tests, their lower order has always contributed,” he pointed out.
The 2-0 scoreline, though a little less flattering than 3-0 or a whitewash, also reflects how inequitable the meetings between the two have digressed into—apart from the engrossing Sabina Park draw, there was little suspense or drama involved in the series. It was just like reading a romcom novel, where you know how the central thread and climax, even before you had leafed through the preface. Kohli, as though bored of the permeating monotony, tried to infuse some intrigue into the plot with his radical choice of men in the playing eleven.
The latest experiment — the logic of which has no tangible proof so as to trigger a debate — was a reversion to the six-batsmen formula embraced by his predecessors and so staunchly flouted by Kohli. As always Kohli had his rationale too, stemming essentially from the collective potency shown by his bowlers. “There have been instances when we’d felt we were a batsman short, like in the Galle Test and a couple of times in the South Africa series. So if we feel we can bowl oppositions out twice with four bowlers, then we can go in with six batsmen, especially since we are playing world-class opponents at home in the next few months. Also if we stick with the same formula, we’ll become predictable for other teams,” he explained. There was a hint that this could be Kohli’s preferred template in the 16-Test home stretch, though with Kohli speculations are best kept asunder. It’s better to predict how many wickets Ashwin, provided he doesn’t get injured, end up with after the marathon Test season. Or how many more hundreds he would score or man of the match plaques he would hoard.
West Indies, meanwhile, can look forward to settle their scores in Florida next week, in the format they truly thrive in.