Ever since the absence of DRS gave a lucky opening for Sri Lanka and Rangana Herath burst through it to deliver a sensational win for his team at Galle in 2015, India have lost only one test match in over two years. South Africa came here and not only lost 0-3, but also their captain who resigned after losing two more games. Since then, the SA Leadership has changed several hands. West Indies hosted them, avoided a clean sweep, thanks only to a Roston Chase Special and an awful drainage system. NZ came here, lost in each type of track possible, flat, greentop and a turner. England came visiting, managed all of one draw in five games. Lyon and O’Keefe turned the ball just enough, Jadeja and Ashwin turned it too much, India were crushed at Pune, but then, a turner, a flat deck and a sporting track later, India had won yet another series. Before this, another 600+ score aided demolition of Bangladesh had also happened. Travelled to Sri Lanka, and registered a clean sweep in 11 days of cricket. Kohli-led India look invincible in test cricket. We all are sure that this record will eventually become much less astonishing, once they travel overseas. But can we be so sure?
The criticism has always been, India win at home, but not away. But in this sequence, they did play three away series and won them all, even though they were against SL and WI. Teams play the conditions they get, and too much criticism of home advantage is unwarranted. Presented here is a closer look on whether home conditions really played a big role.
They did play a big role in the SA series. But then, Indian batsmen too struggled to score runs. Rahane was the only man to score a century in the entire series. India too were bowled out for scores in the neighbourhood of 200s. Yet they managed to clinch slender but significant leads and shut the Proteas out. Jadeja’s contributions down the order often proved to be the difference between a lead and a deficit. SA too did have very good spinners in Tahir, Harmer etc, but clearly the Spin Twins outdid them. Here is the case of playing the conditions better. Its not that India rolled over SA just like that and SA did not have the personnel. Agreed that, SA were inexperienced in these conditions, but they did have talented and world-class batsmen and bowlers who could tackle the tracks on offer. After all, they were the World No.1 Side then. India did better, because of experience, and better tactics.
West Indies tour happened seven months later. To begin with, the visitors demolished the WI and went up 1-0. India held the upper hand for most of the second test before they bumped into a spirited resistance from Roston Chase on the final day. Visibly stunned, India went into a hole at 126-5, before Saha and Ashwin digged India out of it with each making a century, then the bowlers sealed the match and the series for India. Fourth test was washed out. However weak WI were, they played in familiar conditions. It did suit the Indian bowlers, but as a home team, WI should have made the better use. They did, holding the upper hand briefly, before letting India’s depth overwhelm them.
Kiwis travelled to India next. They had just spun India out in a World T20 league match just months earlier. They were touted to be the most unpredictable side of them all in the home season. India did not stick to turners, knowing NZ had quality spinners in Santner, Sodhi and Patel. They laid out a sporting track, more suitable to batsmen and outbatted NZ. Knowing the talents of Southee and Boult, they doled out a green top next, where Indian seamers outbowled their more illustrious counterparts to seal the series. Then on a turner, boosted by one of the ugliest 188 you will ever see by Rahane, and a Kohli double, they sealed the whitewash. Again all types of tracks were given, and India finished the perfect set. I can’t find a reason why India’s pace quartet (only three will play in the XI though) can’t replicate their Kolkata Performace in Wellington or Christchurch.
England came calling next. They had defeated India in their 2012 tour to these shores. They were the toughest of them all really. On a Rajkot road, England made 537, India replied with 488 and the match meandered to a dull draw, even though India briefly threatened to collapse on the final day. A perfect test pitch at Vishakapatnam, England’s first innings collapse gave India huge lead, and the visitors were one down. Seven Down India were still almost 90 behind at Mohali, but Ashwin, Jadeja and Jayant Yadav put India in command with their bat and then it was only a formality. At a rank turner in Mumbai, England made 400 and had India at 364-7, but Kohli and Jayant took India to 631 and India won by an innings. Pretty much the same repeated on a road at Chennai. England 477, India 759-7 (Karun Nair 303*). Jadeja took seven on a fifth day pitch which didnt turn to deliver another innings win for India. 4-0 was the margin, But England made three scores on 400+ in the series. It was a set pattern for India, bat them out in the first innings and then seize the moments in the second to seal the win.
Pune was disaster for India. Sundar Pune, as O’Keefe would call it, dished out a horrendous turner, and the visitors made the better use of it as India lost by 333 runs. Another minefield, another sensational spell by an Aus Spinner (Lyon 8-50), But India came back thanks to Rahul, Pujara and Rahane, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Another 600+ score on a road at Ranchi, The series moved to a decider. Just then, Kuldeep Yadav on debut, derailed a dominant Australian Start to hand India an early initiative which India never let slip.
From the summary of the home season and the WI series, it is amply clear that India won because they played the conditions better. They found themsleves down quite a few times, but they managed to recover every time. They were helped by the home conditions for sure, but the opponents too had equally talented players who could have beaten India in their own game, like at Pune. But barring that aberration, India managed to come back every time they were down and sealed the deal ruthelessly almost everytime they were ahead. It is this fire to win and keep winning, which puts Kohli’s Team India a class apart from the previous sides. It is this ability to ruthless shut the doors on the opposition once ahead, which I feel, will help them immensely in challenging overseas assignments. They have got the fire of the once-mighty Australians. Possessing a well rounded pace attack with players for all conditions, a hugely talented spin attack which also serves as a very solid lower order, the world class batting which has made 45 runs per wicket in tests since 2016 (next best 32), arguably the best wicketkeeper of the world in Saha, a large pool of equally capable backup players, India will definitely be the best ever Indian side to visit SA, England, Australia and NZ from 2017 to 2019. I don’t rule out the possibility of series wins for India in this stretch. India will not just compete, but start winning matches in these conditions. Whether India can sustain this form and win a few series, remains to be seen. The question in the title of the blog will be answered very soon, but India do have the talent to earn the right to be called “Kohli’s Invincibles”. Will they?