History was made on a wet, gloomy day at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Not a single ball was bowled on the final day of a month-long Test series as India clinched their first ever Test series win in Australia.
To better understand the true significance of the win one need to go back in time to India’s first tour of Australia in 1947-48.
As The Wisden Almanac put it: “In the Test Matches they were outclassed: four were lost; in three Australia batted only once; and such was the superiority of the Australians that except in one instance the result looked a foregone conclusion before the end of the first day.”
It was a trend that continued for most of the 71 years since. India were competitive at times but for most part, they failed to come to terms with the pace, the bounce and the class of the Australian cricketers over the entirety of a series.
Virat Kohli promised his side was different. He spoke of being obsessed with victory. He spoke of intent. And against an Australian side weakened by the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner, India came good. By the end, it was established that the visitors were in a different class altogether.
Cheteshwar Pujara. Rishabh Pant. Jasprit Bumrah. Mohammed Shami. Ishant Sharma. Ravindra Jadeja. Ajinkya Rahane. Mayank Agarwal. Hanuma Vihari. Rohit Sharma. Ravichandran Ashwin. Kuldeep Yadav. Virat Kohli. And everyone else in the team stepped up when the team needed them to.
Finding the best way to win
But, even more importantly, Kohli and India may have finally found the their template for world dominance.
Too often in the past, Kohli would perhaps want his team to play like the great Australian outfits of the 90s and the 2000s.
One can’t fault him for that. That Australian team was something. Their style was characterised by manic scoring rates — in 2001 (3.8 per over), in 2002 (4.0) and in 2003 (4.1). Put up the quick runs and then leave it to Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne to finish things off. Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting reckoned that they needed to give bowlers time to bowl the opposition out.
The average run rate in all Tests rose from 2.85 per over in the five years to 2000, to 3.28 in the five years to 2006. It changed cricket and influenced everyone, probably a young Kohli too.
But still that was a style that Australia arrived at over the natural course of events. It wasn’t something that they planned initially. It just happened to be a style they were most comfortable playing in and it won them matches.
So even while Kohli wanted to play cricket in that way, his team-mates weren’t quite ready for it. Intent, yes, but of a different kind was the need of the hour.
To that effect, the series losses, in South Africa and England, steeled their resolve. It allowed them to learn about their shortcomings and get better.
Much like Clive Lloyd did after the West Indies lost 1-5 in Australia in 1976.
Working towards a plan
As he sat in a bar with Dr Rudi Webster on his return to the West Indies, he formulated the plan that would ensure West Indies’ cricket supremacy for the next 10 years.
“I want this West Indies team to be the best for the next 10 years,” said Lloyd. And Webster thought Lloyd was down a few drinks. But then the West Indies skipper went ahead and laid out his plan. When this writer met Webster during the 2007 World Cup, the psychologist revealed what Lloyd’s plan was.
“The first thing I will do is to get players who are fit. In Australia, the players would get tired in the last session and make mistakes. So, if they are not fit, they won’t get in. Secondly, they should be able to field — in any position. If they get into the West Indies team, they should have good technique and be prepared to work on it. The last aspect is the mind.”
And the final change was that Lloyd wanted his fast bowlers to hunt in packs of four. From March 10, 1976 to March 30, 1995, West Indies lost two Test series out of 36. They dominated Test cricket like no other team before them and way more than Lloyd’s initial 10-year plan.
In its own way, the series against Australia might have handed India and Kohli the template they need to dominate Test cricket.
The Pujara way
Of the 48 Tests that were played in 2018, 43 produced results. And, staggeringly, 27 Tests (63%) finished inside four days - or quicker.
So unlike the Aussie team of yore who needed to bat quickly to give their bowlers time or the West Indies who needed to blast out the opposition, all Kohli and India need to do is bat time. That is easier said than done but India, in this series, showed that they can do it.
If the batsmen spend enough time in the middle, as Pujara showed, the runs will come. And if India have runs on board, the quality of the bowling unit will shine through. In an era where Tests rarely, if ever, last the full five days, batting time might just be the key to unlocking world domination.
Batting time doesn’t always mean batting in a slow or dour manner but it does mean putting on the big runs in all conditions.
India’s batsmen have shown that they have the ability to do that at home and they are finally starting to translate potential into runs away from home as well. Kohli is all about winning Tests. He always has been and sustained domination is built on a tactic that the opposition has difficulty coming to grips with. Quick runs and quicker wickets seem to be the norm now. India could change that and perhaps take Test cricket back to the ‘Golden Era’ of batting.
“This series win will give us a different identity as the Indian team,” said Kohli after the win. A different identity and maybe, a different method too.
“This is just the stepping stone for us. The average age of the team is quite young. We believed in South Africa, we were on the right track. We believed in England that we were on the right track and now we have the results.”
Results always go a long way but whether this win will see India go on a world-beating run, remains to be seen. For now, the signs are very promising indeed.