The end of a series is a good time to take in the whole picture and, whichever way you look at it, it was an astonishing result. South Africa weren’t just the best team in the world, they were so by a large margin. To beat them 3-0 — who knows it might have been 4-0, and by large margins — is a stunning result. It also tells you too that nobody is now travelling well in alien conditions, and while we feared that, it is now a valid conclusion and an unfortunate aspect of our game.
While there are many things to consider as one looks back, two stood out for me. India’s spin bowling reserves might be sparse at the moment but those playing for India compare very favourably with earlier generations. Ravichandran Ashwin now needs to be looked at differently and his numbers force you to. He has five man of the series awards out of twelve played in and he is as powerful a match winner in these conditions now as his idol Anil Kumble. They are of course different bowlers and the thinker in Ashwin will be aware there are more peaks to be scaled but at this stage, it is a fair assessment. In fact, Kumble asked him if he has begun to think like the leader of the attack and brimming as he is with self-confidence, I think Ashwin already believes that.
Having made little forays into different styles, Ashwin now knows what is right for him and his line, the classical off-spinner’s line, is working fine for him. It was something that the experts had recommended earlier, but often you have to discover it for yourself. When you do, it is a great place to be in, and you can see that with Ashwin. He is comfortable in his action, with his pace and with the variations he possesses which are many and subtle (other than the more visible ones!). I am looking forward to tracking his career because there is more to him then what you see on the field.
The Jadeja masterstroke
I believe the selectors need to be complimented for picking Ravindra Jadeja because it was easy not to. Yes, he had wickets but those came on pitches that were made for him to do well and it would have been perfectly acceptable for them to say they wanted to see more before a recall. But often a good horses for courses policy produces dividends and Jadeja was outstanding, not just with ball but in the depth he gave Indian batting. Over the next twelve months, his partnership with Ashwin will be at the core of the captain’s thinking, for the balance it provides is something other teams would give anything for.
The captain himself was a big plus. You have to admire Virat Kohli’s energy and his passion for leadership. One of the things you look for in potential leaders is whether they get buoyed by the position given to them. Not everyone does but Kohli clearly has a flair for it. It is just the beginning for him and indeed previous captains, including the admirable MS Dhoni, have won series in home conditions, but I particularly like his approach to fast bowling. He promises to become a bowler’s captain and that is a quality not all batsman leaders are possessed of.
The next few months will test him. Having clearly relished being the leader, he will have to go back to being just another player and his ability to be a team player, to be a contributor to Dhoni will be critical. They are different people with different styles and as Dhoni winds down there will be much media chatter about leadership. I think it will help Indian cricket if Kohli takes the lead in playing that down and helping India be Dhoni’s team over the next four months.
Rahane grows in stature
I thought Ajinkya Rahane and Wriddhiman Saha were the others who grew in the series, even though Rahane took his time in proving that statement. Like Ashwin, I think Rahane went back to being the person he is: confident, patient and unassuming. Those were the qualities that made him a valuable long innings player for India and he showed that at Delhi, especially in the second innings. And Saha showed too, as the series progressed, why he is rated so highly in the cricket fraternity. We tend to judge wicket keepers by their batting in the post Gilchrist and Dhoni era and that is unfair to Saha, and I think Sunil Gavaskar’s suggestion that he slip down the order to take the pressure off might not be a bad idea. But behind the stumps, Saha made the position his own.
I believe India need to have a plan for Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara, especially if they are unlikely to feature in limited-overs cricket. When you don’t play international cricket, the quality of bowling, and I suspect the demands on work ethic too, drop sharply. These two occupy crucial positions in the batting order and maybe letting them play abroad is an option. As it could be with Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav, for they may not get the miles in their legs otherwise.
For Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, it is six months away from the rigours of Test cricket but they will find competition looming. Those are the only spots open at the moment and that is not such a bad thing for a selector and a captain.
3-0 was a special result for a team in which everyone is looking ahead in life.