Last winter, after the 2-0 defeat Down Under, Ravi Shastri had asked for “one year” to transform the Test team. The Indian team director has walked the talk. India have played eight Test matches following their Australian sojourn, winning five and losing one. But for the washouts in Fatullah and Bangalore, the scoreline would have been 7-1. This Indian team plays to win.
The comeback 2-1 victory in Sri Lanka was a fantastic achievement, notwithstanding the fact that the opposition had been going through transition. Beating South Africa 3-0, however, is more creditable. The Saffers are the No. 1 Test side in the world. They didn’t lose on the road for nine years. And coming to the Test series against India, they had the winning momentum after their T20 and ODI victories. It was a huge challenge for Virat Kohli and his boys. They passed the test with flying colours.
Intimidation played a key role in India’s success. The Mohali pitch was a rank turner and by producing such a surface they managed to get under the skin of the opposition. South Africa were intimidated. “We are expecting the worst. We are expecting big spin on Day One,” Faf du Plessis had said ahead of the first Test. Du Plessis is one of the better players against spin who has had a fair amount of experience of playing in Indian conditions. His trepidation didn’t bode well for his team. Little wonder then that the visitors, save the great AB de Villiers, went down without a fight.
In fact, they were so shaken that even on a good pitch at Chinnaswamy, they fell for 214 all out in their first innings. Bad weather saved them before their unbeaten streak overseas was broken in Nagpur. Yes, Jamtha pitch was “poor” but South Africa were expected to show some resolve. As for India, it was a challenge to prove that they could win even on a good surface. This is why the victory at Kotla was special.
A very good cricket pitch had been laid out. Also, South Africa eventually showed some defiance. This win should help this young Indian team grow as a Test unit.
Indeed, this group of players offers hope. Murali Vijay has become consistency personified top of the order. Shikhar Dhawan is inconsistent but KL Rahul provides a very good back-up. Cheteshwar Pujara has been hugely benefited from his association with Rahul Dravid, when he played for India A earlier this year. He changed his wide stance on Dravid’s advice and it helped. Pujara, however, has had a habit of getting out bowled even after playing himself in.
He would like out to sort out the problem. Kohli didn’t get a hundred in this series but batted beautifully in Delhi. And his captaincy was top-class, especially on the final day of the series, when the South African batters were blocking everything. It’s so refreshing to have a proactive captain who wants to make things happen.
And then there’s Ajinkya Rahane, a diamond ring that India must treasure. Discipline is the key-word in Rahane’s cricket. It promises to take him to the elite league.
Make no mistake, without Ravi Ashwin, India wouldn’t have won the series so easily. It was not only about his 31 wickets at 11.12. The off-spinner’s very presence had helped India gain a significant psychological advantage. It was half the battle won. Comeback man Ravindra Jadeja brilliantly assisted his senior spin-bowling partner.
Twenty-three wickets in seven innings at 10.82 confirm a very successful return to international cricket for the left-arm spinner.
Leggie Amit Mishra, too, chipped in with decent contributions in the two Tests he played, taking important wickets and breaking partnerships.
Fast bowlers didn’t get too many overs. But on Monday, Umesh Yadav showed that they were ready to put their hands up to be counted. He, along with Ishant Sharma and Varun Aaron, forms a formidable pace trio. And don’t forget that Mohammed Shami has recovered from his knee surgery and will be playing serious cricket soon.
There are some areas of concern though, and Rohit Sham’s Test struggles is one of them. The Mumbai batsman has failed to make his opportunities count and the team management has to take a call about his future. As for Wriddhiman Saha, his ‘keeping is world-class, but his batting still needs some improvement to allow India to go with a six-five combination in all conditions.
The ultimate goal will be to remove the ‘poor travellers’ tag. India will be playing 13 Test matches at home next year. All are marquee series involving New Zealand, Australia and England. Good performance against tough opponents will set them up nicely for successes abroad.