Ranking India's Top Overseas Test Series Wins

(by Abhishek Mukherjee)

It took India twelve attempts to check Australia off their list of series wins. That leaves them with only South Africa, who have already announced that they are set to turn their home into a “fortress” strong enough for them to stay undefeated.

It is now time to evaluate the Indian win Down Under: where does it stand in India’s cricket history? Let us consider only Tests for the purpose of our exercise. India have won 15 overseas series in all. Of these, we can ignore ten:

– The four Bangladesh tours in the previous decade
– In Zimbabwe in 2005
– The last two series in West Indies
– Against New Zealand, then the weakest side in the world, in 1967-68
– In Sri Lanka in 1992-93 (despite the questionable umpiring)
– In Sri Lanka in 2017

That leaves us with nine series.

#9: 2-1 in Sri Lanka, 2015

The Sri Lankan slide had begun, but Rangana Herath was still around, Angelo Mathews was fit, and Kumar Sangakkara played the first two Tests in Virat Kohli’s first full series as Test captain. The pressure was on India after Dinesh Chandimal played arguably the innings of the decade and Herath took 7/48 to win the first Test.

Then Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra won India the second Test. Cheteshwar Pujara carried his bat in the third for 145, and the lower-order contributed with both Ashwin and Mishra scoring a fifty each. Sri Lanka kept India in the hunt with four wickets in hand when the final session began, but eventually India turned out to be too strong. Ashwin took 21 wickets and Mishra 15.

#8: 1-0 in New Zealand, 2008-09

New Zealand scored 279 in each innings of the first Test, but their bowlers could not prevent the Indians from putting up 520, which included three fifties apart from Sachin Tendulkar’s 160. Harbhajan Singh’s 6/63 then decided the Test. Gautam Gambhir then batted for almost 11 hours to save the second Test after India followed on. And in the third, India had New Zealand eight down in the fourth innings when stumps were called.

A win in New Zealand after over four decades deserves a mention.

#7: 1-0 in West Indies, 2006

Sachin Tendulkar missed the series. Sourav Ganguly was not around. Irfan Pathan played one Test. The Indian pace attack consisted of S Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, and VRV Singh, who had a combined experience of four Tests. And they conceded a 130-run lead in the first Test. Then things turned around. Wasim Jaffer scored 212, and West Indies finished nine down in the fourth innings against Anil Kumble.

In the second Test Virender Sehwag scored 99 before lunch. Rahul Dravid and Mohammad Kaif also got hundreds, but India missed a second spinner where Kumble and Sehwag made West Indies follow-on and claim seven more wickets.

West Indies did better in the third Test. While some argued that Brian Lara could have enforced a follow-on, they still did well to set India 392. India finished on 298/4. Dravid’s 81 and 68 on a difficult pitch in the fourth Test should rank among the finest performances by an Indian. Harbhajan took 5/13 in the first innings and Kumble 6/78 in the second, Sreesanth chipped in with five in the match, and India won by 49 runs to clinch the series.

#6: 2-0 in England, 1986

England were flattened by Dilip Vengsarkar, who top-scored in each of the four innings (with 126*, 33, 61, 102*) in the two Tests India won. As for the bowlers, Chetan Sharma demolished England at Lord’s. Kapil Dev and Roger Binny provided crucial spells in both Tests. Madan Lal, drafted in from league cricket for the Headingley Test, took three wickets before his return. And Maninder Singh, barely out of his teens, topped the bowling charts.

To be fair, England were an ordinary side. Ian Botham was serving a suspended. They had a surprisingly weak batting line-up with Derek Pringle at six. So dispirited were they that Mike Gatting was appointed captain for the second Test when David Gower was attending his post-match interview.

Nevertheless, it remained India’s only overseas series win outside Asia between 1971 and 2005.

#5: 2-1 in Pakistan, 2003-04

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Pakistan had a weak attack – so weak that they had to summon Saqlain Mushtaq out of nowhere. Virender Sehwag pushed him to retirement after one Test.

At Multan, Sehwag amassed the first triple-hundred by an Indian, Tendulkar remained unbeaten on 194, and Kumble took eight wickets. And Lakshmipathy Balaji led the rout at Rawalpindi on either side of a 12-hour Dravid marathon.

The Pakistani fast bowlers toiled hard in the April heat on flat pitches and were generally ineffective in both Tests. However, some controlled bowling from Umar Gul helped them win at Lahore. But even then, the first ever win – Test, let alone series – on Pakistan soil definitely carries significance.

#4: 1-0 in West Indies, 1970-71

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The rout was led by Sunil Gavaskar (774 runs, still a world record for a debut series) and Dilip Sardesai (642). However, so flat were the pitches that not a single Indian bowler averaged under 33. It must also be remembered that this was a West Indian side that did not win a single series, home or away, between 1966 and 1973.

Garry Sobers was the only bowler of note in an uninspiring bowling attack that consisted of Vanburn Holder (three Tests old), Keith Boyce (debutant), John Shepherd (unimpressive on flat pitches), Grayson Shillingford, Uton Dowe, Jack Noreiga, Inshan Ali, Maurice Foster, and Arthur Barrett.

On flat pitches, thus, it was a battle between two strong batting sides, and the inevitable happened. Once India took a lead in the second Test, they were happy to cling on to it and seal the series. But then, India had never won a Test – let alone a series – against West Indies. This was also India’s first overseas series win in a major nation, and they did it immediately after MAK Pataudi, their long-standing captain, had been sacked. Ajit Wadekar’s team deserve the applause.

#3: 2-1 in Australia, 2018-19

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Australia had a weak batting line-up, but their bowling attack was the strongest India had ever faced in the country: all four of their bowlers featured in the top 17 in ICC Test rankings when the series started.

They missed Steven Smith and David Warner (perhaps Cameron Bancroft as well), but India did not have a full side either. Ashwin was injured after the first Test. Ravindra Jadeja carried an injury. Wriddhiman Saha had not featured for some time. Prithvi Shaw, touted as the only obvious pick as opener, got injured before the series. And Mayank Agarwal was flown in midway.

The series was decided by Pujara, whose 521 runs towered well above the others. Kohli got a hundred on a difficult Perth wicket. Rishabh Pant pouched 20 catches to go with his 350 runs. And Agarwal made the most of his call-up.

And while Jasprit Bumrah (21 wickets at 17) was the star bowler of the tour, five other Indians averaged under 29 with the ball. Both sides featured several cricketers who might not have featured in full-strength XIs, but the Indians grabbed their opportunities far better than the Australians – probably the hallmark of a great side.

#2: 1-0 in England, 2007

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The Greg Chappell tenure had rocked India in several ways. India had a disastrous World Cup, following which Chappell resigned. India were without a coach. And while England were whitewashed in Australia a few months ago, they had not lost a single home series in six years.

India put up what the pundits call a “team performance”. There was only one hundred in the series, that too from Kumble – but eight men scored 125 or more. And the four bowlers all got 9 or more wickets.

Zaheer Khan, a changed bowler after his stint with Worcestershire, had a spell of 4/79 at Lord’s. RP Singh got 4/79. After India were nine wickets down, MS Dhoni and Sreesanth sneaked out a draw with some help from Steve Bucknor.

At Trent Bridge Zaheer improved upon that with 4/59 and 5/75. Despite conceding a 283-run lead, England, looked comfortable at 287/3 in the second innings. They were then bowled out for 355 and lost by 7 wickets. India batted England out of the decider at The Oval.

#1: 1-0 in England, 1971

Let us browse through the cricketing reasons first.

South Africa were banned. Australia had been thrashed in South Africa and had lost The Ashes at home. West Indies were not winning. Pakistan were hardly playing. And New Zealand merely competed. At that point, thus, England were the best team in the world.

As for India, they had lost every single one of their previous 11 Tests on English soil of one ignores the rain-affected matches. An Indian win seemed improbable. And yet India challenged all odds to pull off the impossible.

Even here, in the first Test, India were 145/8 chasing 184 with Bishan Singh Bedi at the crease and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar to follow. In the second they were 65/3 chasing 420. And in the third they conceded a 71-run lead.

And then Chandra blew them away with 6/38, arguably the most important spell in Indian history on either side of lunch. The interval was marked by the appearance of Bella, a three-year-old elephant on loan from Chessington Zoo by the local Indians: it was Ganesh Chaturthi. From 49/3 England were bowled out for 101, and despite the initial hiccups, India sealed the series.

But the off-field impact was significantly more, for the victory had come a mere 24 years after India had become independent of British rule. Wisden chronicled the goings-on back home: “There was dancing in the streets. Revellers stopped and boarded buses to convey the news to commuters. In the homes, children garlanded wireless sets…”

Some of these revellers might have witnessed British rule in India. You cannot match those emotions.