Cricketers are an indecisive lot. They can never really make up their minds.
Ask any cricketer worth their salt what the biggest moment of their career is, and they will and say playing/winning in a World Cup. In the same breath, however, they will hasten to add that Test cricket is the purest and the most important format of the sport.
Well, Which Really Is It?
A World Cup experience is the most revered, but Test cricket is most loved?
Now, how do these two add up? They really don’t, and that’s where the problem lies with Indian cricket.
For the longest period of time, while our legends sang praises for Test cricket, they knew that we just didn’t have the wherewithal to be numero uno in the format because of a lack of a quality bowling attack.
Then, sometime in the 1990s, with the advent of satellite television and the evolution of cricketers into brands, playing and winning Cricket World Cups became an obsession. This was the generation where a game in coloured clothing and a loss in the same would lead to mass hysteria, including a hastily-ended Cricket World Cup semi-final in 1996 at Eden Gardens.
A Flawed Legacy Passed Onto Ganguly
While we achieved moderate success in ODI cricket in the 1990s, the Test record, especially away from home, was in absolute shambles. That’s where the decay set in even as we started assembling the best batting line-up we ever had in our history.
Thankfully, with the turn of the century, wiping out our past foibles became an obsession for a bunch of seniors, especially for captain Sourav Ganguly and his deputy Rahul Dravid. But even as we won an odd Test abroad in the early 2000s, we still faltered against ordinary sides like Zimbabwe (2000-1) and West Indies (2001-02).
It was not until India won under Rahul Dravid in West Indies (2006) and England (2007) that we really made a statement as a Test side. Yes the same Dravid who is despised for his captaincy, because his biggest ‘failure’ was not being able to lead his side into the second round of the 2007 Cricket World Cup.
We made rapid strides as a Test side under Dravid but he never quite gets the credit because we are a nation obsessed with white ball cricket and World Cups.
Dhoni’s Era, and an Obsession With Colour
The World Cup obsession returned under Mahendra Singh Dhoni and we did manage to win three major limited-overs titles of the ICC under him. In Tests, we did become number one, but it is more a nature of how the ICC rankings work as a summary of your performances for three previous years.
India’s successes in Tests under Dhoni included a series triumph in New Zealand (2009), two drawn contests in Sri Lanka (2010) and South Africa (2010-11).
But 2011 onwards, the decline started because India got into the comfort zone, thanks to Dhoni’s six at the Wankhede Stadium which fetched us the World Cup. That six sort of completely pushed Test cricket into the background as our bunch of superstars who shaped the triumph got complacent and took the sport for granted.
What followed were whitewashes in England and Australia in 2011-12. It cost a number of senior cricketers’ careers, but the rot set in and lasted till the time Dhoni was the Test captain in 2014-15.
Virat Kohli & The Return of Passion For Test Cricket
Exactly four years ago, Virat Kohli’s passion for the Test match format replaced Dhoni’s apparent dislike.
The change is quite visible - from being down in the dumps on the ICC Test rankings table, India is now the number one side in the world. The effort in recasting the side is quite visible.
Also Read: The Four Years of Captain Virat Kohli
This historic first-ever series win in Australia therefore represents a milestone in Indian Test history. It has come at a time when India in the past could well have been obsessed about getting the World Cup trophy home. But it is down to one man, Kohli, and it has not yet been brought to the forefront.
Kohli is a legacy seeker who is keeping the Test match flame burning in India and the world. Thanks purely to this, we have managed to build a world class bowling attack coupled with two top-class batsmen.
The side is still work in progress and is at least a couple of years from being a complete side. That was clearly reflected in the way we lost in South Africa and England.
But for now, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate the series triumph in Australia. Do not listen to naysayers who point out to the apparent lack of quality in the Australian batting. India did not have a hand in Australia banning Steve Smith and David Warner. The squad up against India on the field was not of Kohli’s choice, they played with the cards dealt in front of them.
The series triumph is significant for a number of reasons because Australia has built a fortress at home in Test cricket. Most importantly, for the fact that since 1992-93 when West Indies won Down Under, Australia have lost a series at home to only two teams- once to England (2010-11) and thrice to South Africa (2008-09, 2012-13 and 2016-17).
Historically, too, India becomes the first Asian side to win a Test series in Australia. This is a stupendous achievement when you consider that even the champion Pakistan sides of the 1990s with the brilliant Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram in their prime could not achieve the feat.
In India’s case, the closest India came to winning a series came first in 1977-78 when they could not beat a second string side hampered by the Kerry Packer circus. Then, in 1985-86 under Kapil Dev, when the famed Australian umpiring conspired to deny the tourists a win. Much later in 2003-04, bad weather, along with an inspired Steve Waugh in his final appearance, held India at bay at Sydney. All three times Australia had an underwhelming side and that’s where maybe lies India’s best chance to do well Down Under.
Hence, it is important to celebrate this triumph. It also comes at a time when winning away from home is slowly coming back into fashion.
The bigger challenge from here on is to have an encore, but before that we have the quadrennial obsession coming alive again in May 2019. You know what happens thereafter!
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