India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have all won the World Cup yet they have not won a bilateral Test series in Australia. India became the first team from the subcontinent to create history and it took 71 years for them to win a series Down Under.
Over the years, India and Pakistan have won Tests in Australia and looked good to win a series, too. Come to think of it, India came close to winning a Test on their first visit at the Sydney Cricket Ground where they clinched the series now. Rain robbed them then just as it prevented them from winning it 3-1.
On subsequent visits, particularly in the last four decades, Indian won Tests, squared series and in the new millennium came close to winning more than once. They drew series twice in the 80s and in the last 18 years, teams captained by Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble and Mahendra Singh Dhoni should have taken the series, but could not for different reasons, not due to lack of talent or application.
A look at the teams will tell you that they had virtually the Who’s Who of Indian cricket and some even of world cricket. On the last three tours the teams came with plenty of hope whereas this time with a lot of expectations. From now on no-one will deride an Indian team visiting Australia as tigers at home and rabbits overseas.
Things seem to have conspired to pave the way for India to win 2-1 this time round. Their bowlers this year performed in all conditions, starting with South Africa, then in England and now in Australia. South Africa and England managed to win at home, the luck of the coin playing a vital role.
Just as the Indians were at their best in Australia, the hosts had struggled to put up a matching side. The oft heard argument that the Australians missed their disgraced captain Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner, serving a one-year ban for ball-tampering in South Africa early last year, but frankly that’s an excuse. Even if the two had played the side as a whole would not have stood up to the rampaging Indian attack, be it pace or spin.
Kohli and his coach Ravi Shastri, both World Cup winners, rate this series win above the One-Day Championship victories in 1987 and 2011, though not many may agree with them. The two World Cup victories have changed the course of Indian cricket, the second one coming at a time when the Test team was getting to the top.
Someone will point out that Australia’s record after winning the Ashes 4-0 last year is rather appalling across the formats and so they were bound to be smashed as they had no bench strength to replace the failing players and the domestic Sheffield Shield is in clash with the ongoing Big Bash.
For a change, the Australians are left counting the positives from the lost series. They would not like to look at the stats showing the last time they were forced to follow-on. Had Kohli not decided to bat again at the MCG, the Australians would have followed on in successive Tests, a record in itself.
What actually made India a team to fear is that for once it did not have to depend on Kohli. Every Test saw someone or the other chipping in with a big score and the rest stitching useful partnerships. They all played around the solid Cheteshwar Pujara, who three hundreds in three Tests ensured stayed on top. His contribution has to be right on top as he blunted the much touted Australian pace of the three of the world’s best.
For Kohli, Hanuma Vihari facing new ball for 66 balls and staying with debutant Mayank Agarwal for 16 overs is the high point of the collective fight of the team, while Pujara nursed Vihari and Rishabh Pant, who ended up as the second highest scorer in the series with 350 runs, including a big unbeaten 159 at the SCG. For Pant, a world record for catches to boot, though he has to improve standing up and his calculative diving.
It is not that the Indians did not have problems. They had to go into the Melbourne Test without their regular opening batsmen Murali Vijay and Lokesh Rahul, both with a good record in Australia on the previous trip, and with Agarwal and promoting a middle-order batsman Vihari for his sound technique.
They had to make do without their most experienced spinner Ravichandran Ashwin for three Tests, though missing Ishant Sharma for the Sydney Test did not cost them much as his replacement Kuldeep Yadav returned with a five for. In fact, Kuldeep’s all best figures came in England and Australia in different formats, six for 25 at Nottingham ODI and 5 for 24 at Old Trafford T-20 and now five for 99 in the Sydney Test.
Kuldeep came in as a trump card for the fourth Test, otherwise the entire series was manned by the pace men. Between Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah they shared 38 of the 70 Australian wickets that fell. Both Shami and Bumrah had six-wicket hauls in an innings and Ishant’s best was four.
If Bumrah and Ishant bowled tight, Shami was more attacking in buying his wickets. The year 2018 saw the Indian pacers – Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav in the reserves – doing as well as the feared West Indies pacers in the 70s-80s. The record speaks for itself. In 14 Tests in 2018, the Indian pacers claimed 179 wickets, far better than their previous best of 125 in 1979 at the beginning of the Kapil Dev era.
Kohli’s team simply was too good, outplaying and outclassing Australia.