Updated: September 4, 2019 8:10:30 am
There was no burst of spontaneous celebrations from the Indian fielders, even their usually expressive skipper Virat Kohli seemed detached, as Ravindra Jadeja grabbed the final West Indies wicket to wrap up the match and series. Hugs, handshakes and warm smiles ensued, but there was no frantic high-fives or fist-pumps, as they trooped off to the dressing room with the strut of a team ranked number one in the world of five-day cricket. They’re making Test wins look ridiculously simple, almost commonplace—a hallmark of world-beaters.
It’s a throne they’ve been warming since 2016—they have occupied it in the past well—but it has been in the last 12 months that they have begun to exude the aura of a world No.1 side. If the maiden series win in Australia was an indication of potential world-beating greatness, the drubbing of West Indies was a clarification that the mantle of greatness closer to their grasp that ever before in their history.
Languishing at the bottom of the ranking pile West Indies could be, but a 2-0 triumph over them can’t be merely brushed off as minnow-bashing. After all, the same West Indies had thrashed England in a Test series at the stroke of this year. It was just that India played ruthless cricket. Ruthless like the best sides in the world, ruthless like great teams in the world.
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They aren’t a great team yet, but they’re strolling to greatness. No bigger a sign than they’re improving by leaps in each series, picking the missing pieces as they traverse, unearthing fresh match-winners and fattening the depth of the squad. The find of the tournament, as Kohli specified in the press conference, was Hanuma Vihari, solving the vexed No 6 spot. “The way he’s batted under pressure on challenging wickets here was outstanding. I think his skill sets were outstanding, his temperament and technique were top-notch and he countered everything the opposition threw at him,” he observes.
Allied with the rekindling of Ajinkya Rahane’s form, India’s batting line-up exude stability and menace, equipped as they’re with players of every dimension, the anchorman Cheteshwar Pujara, the versatile Virat Kohli, the utilitarian Vihari and the pugnacious Rahane. If only the openers Mayank Agarwal and KL could provide resolute starts, India could be invulnerable in the coming years and front-runners for claiming the World Test Champions. Already, they have rattled 120 points from two games.
As significant it’s for the batting line-up to settle in, it’s pertinent for Test sides to boast a match-winning bowling unit, which helmed by Jasprit Bumrah India possess. On a given juncture of the game, each of Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami could influence the outcome, and the trio conducts their orchestra harmoniously. “A lot of camaraderie is there, a lot of backing is there. We back each other whenever things are not going well. Even when we are going well, we discuss what we can do better. We want to get better every year,” reveals Bumrah.
Their efforts reflect this collectivism—since 2016, no bowling unit has taken more wickets (303) at a better strike rate (50.8) and average (24.88) away from home than India, a rare distinction for an Indian bowling unit. It’s not a coincidence that most of the overseas games had featured a certain Burmah, who in 12 games has plucked 62 wickets at an average of 19.24.
He gets a wicket with every 44th delivery he bowls. So much so that Kohli reckons him “the most complete bowler in the world now.” Stump mic had captured his spontaneous admiration of Bumrah, when he scythed through West Indies’s top order in the first innings in Sabina Park.
“What a bowler man, what a bowler,” Kohli kept on screaming like a man possessed. Not just Bumrah, Ishant and Shami too have contributed tellingly in this span and in this series too—Ishant with sustained sharpness in the first Test and Shami with searing spells under the scorching Sabina Park sun.
Together, they stitched up Kohli’s 28th win as a Test skipper—the most successful Indian skipper ever, and remarkably he achieved it at a faster rate than all of his predecessors, in 12 games fewer than MS Dhoni. He credits the moment to his pace pack: “If you have a good bowling unit, we will end up winning more games, and the reason India is winning so many matches is because we have a set of good bowlers, backed by good batsmen,” he said during the presentation ceremony.
They also have a settled head coach and a bowling coach, Ravi Shastri and Bharat Arun, which is pertinent in the overall scheme because continuity is the bedrock of sporting success. Under Shastri, India have acquired a no-nonsense, no-frills mentality, a streak of gusto that’s characteristic of his playing days.
Bharat, meanwhile, has quietly, gone about grooming India’s bowlers, not just the aforementioned trio but also assembling a back-up brigade. Few teams in the world could boast of quality spinners like Ravichandran Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav warming the bench or pacers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav reduced to bowling at the nets.
Thus, India’s red-ball supremacy is a combination of several factors, a collective triumph of gifted individuals, meticulous planning and smart grooming, thus making Test wins look ridiculously simple.
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