With time, Ravichandran Ashwin might not be able to recall the details — off-break, carrom ball, batsman, catcher. But he will surely remember the moment, the huddle and the high-fives, and the significance of it all in India’s cricket history.
Ashwin’s skipper Virat Kohli was so lost in that moment that he didn’t celebrate as wildly as he usually does. He waved at the dressing room, applauded the crowd and joined his teammates. It was just sinking in.
Before this 31-run victory, a contest of slow-burning drama, few Asian teams have emerged without mortal wounds from a series opener in Australia. They were habitually humbled, battered and demoralised. On Monday, though, Kohli became the first Indian, as well as Asian, Test captain to win a series opener in Australia — always a key marker for the matches that follow — and the first from the continent to have won Tests in South Africa, England and Australia.
But then, this wasn’t a victory claimed by an individual. Cheteshwar Pujara might have played the titular role in fashioning it. But also significant were Ajinkya Rahane’s 70, the 63-run opening alliance between K L Rahul and Murali Vijay, and most hearteningly, the concerted effort of India’s pacemen synchronising seamlessly with Ashwin.
Rarely has an Indian pace bowling pack allied pace, craft, intelligence and discipline as this group. Historically, it has been a one-horse wagon, Kapil Dev or Javagal Srinath or Zaheer Khan leading a modest set of sidekicks. In Adelaide, the three pacers that Kohli had at his disposal were the envy of all former Indian skippers — a multi-skilled, multi-faceted and multi-dimensional group, capable of switching roles and winning games.
Jasprit Bumrah bowled the fastest ball of the Test at 150.6 kmph. Mohammed Shami consistently rattled 145 kmph and Ishant Sharma was not far behind, also touching 145 kmph. According to CricVIz, a data-crunching cricket website, they stacked up an average speed of 141.4 kmph, while managing to land 50.6 per cent of their deliveries in the good-length area. That they outpaced the Australian seamers, who had a combined average of 139.4 kmph, captures the story.
Unlike in England and South Africa, there was little assistance from the Adelaide surface — none of the characteristic bounce or lift, little moisture in the air or surface, no uneven bounce or vicious turn. In fact, the pitch became progressively slower and Australia, though defeated, fought till the last.
And yet, the biggest compliment for the Indians came from the Aussie veterans. “I have seen some great Indian batsmen and batting orders, but not a bowling group as capable as them. Apart from a left-handed seamer, they have everything, speed, accuracy, variety, discipline, the kind that can win you matches anywhere in the world,” said former Australian pacer Jason Gillespie.
As for the batting, Kohli is still the axis, but others have begun to revolve around him. Like Pujara, who for all his exploits at home couldn’t quite reprise the form abroad. With a hundred in England, and now the 123 and 71 in Adelaide, he has turned a corner, even beginning to resemble the man he replaced in the line-up. Rahul Dravid, incidentally, had shepherded India to a famous win at this ground 15 years ago.
You could even draw a parallel to that Adelaide victory in 2003, which they achieved without their figurehead Sachin Tendulkar making runs. In the subsequent years, India have won in South Africa, West Indies, England, New Zealand and Pakistan. But as Kohli said after the win, it’s just the start, there is a series to be won. Yet, there is no mistaking that more such moments beckon this team of history makers.