What A Grandstand Finish!
What a grandstand finish to the most successful season that any Indian cricket team has enjoyed! It certainly is as far as Tests are concerned for I am sure that even the most knowledgeable critic who knows his history well will not be able to come across another season in which the Indian team has had the kind of unprecedented success they had this time around.
Starting with the series in the West Indies in June and ending with the series against Australia in March the team played 17 Tests winning 12 and losing just one. Including the one-off Test against Bangladesh they won every series. Indeed starting from the home contest against South Africa in 2015 India have won six straight rubbers and this includes a run of 19 Tests without defeat till the first Test against Australia at Pune a loss they took in their stride on the way to completing a 2-1 victory in the four-match series.
Even during the golden decade of 2001 – 2011 when Indian cricket was its peak with giants in the batting and bowling line-up the team did not enjoy this run of success. There will be the detractors who will point out that the majority of the victories were at home and the away win in the Caribbean is no big deal given the weakness of West Indian cricket for some years now. But even at home a comprehensive win over South Africa, a clean sweep against New Zealand and defeating England in four of five Tests are feats that cannot be just shrugged aside.
Indeed this team gives every impression that it can perform creditably away too and one has to agree with Virat Kohli that India have the arsenal to win matches abroad. After all even at home it performed admirably on different surfaces. It has a well settled look, the batting and bowling is working well in unison and the bench strength is strong.It must not be forgotten that they registered the victory over Australia with Kohli hardly making any contribution and in fact the deciding Test was won despite the Indian captain and the best batsman being unavailable.
No, there is every reason to be optimistic about the future and this also stems from the fact that India is the No 1 ranked Test team. The victory over Australia stretched their lead over the second ranked side and Kohli and his men have it in them to stay longer at the top than the last time they enjoyed the exalted status from 2009 to 2011.
In the first place they have a leader of the times in Kohli. Provided he can control his emotions in word and deed there is little doubt that he is one who can emerge as one of the outstanding Indian captains of all time. He is the aggressive, no-nonsense type and fully enjoys the confidence of his teammates. Temperamentally there is room for improvement but tactically he is already astute with uncannily right bowling changes and fielding placements. Leading from the front comes naturally to him and his non-show against Australia can be taken as an aberration.
The batting revolves around Kohli but as they showed in Dharmasala Cheteswar Pujara, Lokesh Rahul, Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane have it in them to shoulder additional responsibility. Wriddhiman Saha, Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja make a formidable combination from No 7 to 9 and there are a number of claimants for the No 6 slot from Karun Nair to Shreyas Iyer to Dinesh Kartik who deserves to make a comeback on the strength of his run getting during the season.
There is nothing to worry on the pace bowling front with the quartet of Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami around and ready to excel on the pacier and bouncier pitches generally available abroad having performed admirably on Indian wickets. But the main bowling hopes will still centre round the spin duo of Jadeja and Ashwin. For some time now the off spinner has been breaking world records to deservedly emerge as the No 1 bowler in the ICC rankings. But Jadeja has caught up with him in the wicket taking act and during the just concluded season it was clear that he had made rapid strides as a bowler besides adding his mite with the bat.
There was a time when Jadeja was considered to be a limited overs specialist but of late he has made giant strides as a Test cricketer. The fact that both he and Ashwin are genuine all rounders gives the Indian team the luxury of batting up to No 9. Kuldeep Yadav was a bit of a discovery though one feels his role will be rather limited with the enormous success of Jadeja and Ashwin. The unusual mode of his bowling however makes him an exciting prospect.
Overall then as the Indian players change the whites for the colours for the IPL and take a well deserved rest from the game’s traditional format there is every reason to be upbeat about the future of the India team as far as Test cricket.is concerned.