From the historic 2-1 win against Steve Waugh’s Australians in 2001 to the 1-2 defeat against Alastair Cook’s Englishmen in 2012, India played 59 Tests at home, won 29 and lost nine. Since then, India have won 19 out of 23 Tests at home. It has been a period of unprecedented dominance against some very good teams on a variety of pitches. Through it all, a very different Indian Test team has emerged. It is one Indian fans and professional observers alike are not used to seeing.
In the 21st century, Indian teams have been built around a core of three or four (in some great years) outstanding batsmen, and at the most, a couple of bowlers who took the bulk of the wickets. The other three or four slots in the eleven were filled with journeymen players. If they were bowlers, nobody expected them to take five wickets in a Test innings, and if they were batsmen, they were expected, at the most, to give a stand to the big guns.
Consequently, India would win Test matches in set ways. The wickets came from Anil Kumble or Harbhajan Singh or Pragyan Ojha or Ravichandran Ashwin. The runs came from the big four – Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman. Sourav Ganguly averaged 29.9 in India as Test captain. He had a terrific return to a significantly stronger side in 2007-’08. Teams which could get India into positions from where their spinners did not have runs to play with, or did not have conditions to suit them, could survive and occasionally even win if they had an outstanding bowler of their own.
In that decade, bowlers not named Kumble or Harbhajan averaged 37.3 and took one wicket every 74 balls for India at home. Kumble and Harbhajan combined for 420 wickets at 28.3 per scalp, taking one victim every 63 balls in these games at home. Kumble and/or Harbhajan accounted for 22% of India’s wickets in these Tests. Note that they played many Tests without each other.
The contributions from India’s support bowling have improved since 2013. Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin have taken 27% of India’s wickets at home during this period (note they played a few Tests without each other as well), at a cost of 21 runs per wicket, at the rate of one every 51 balls. Bowlers not named Jadeja or Ashwin managed a wicket every 63 balls at the cost of 31 runs each.
The fast bowlers have improved markedly. Compare the records of India’s four most used fast bowlers at home since 2013 to that of the prominent bowlers of the previous period.
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Overall, the fast bowlers used since 2013 have produced 102 wickets at 32.2 runs each, taking one wicket every 67 deliveries. In the 2001-’12 period, fast bowlers produced 298 wickets at 39.4 runs each, taking one wicket every 74 balls. This improvement has increased India’s chances of winning Tests at home substantially. Opponents have not had any respite when the spinners haven’t been on.
Perhaps the best part of this development is that all four bowlers have improved during these four years. Ishant Sharma’s numbers may not show it, and he has had problems of historical proportions when it comes to taking Test wickets, but even he has bowled better this season than he did in previous seasons. However, as the selection order shows, Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami are India’s first-choice new-ball pair right now. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is a specialist for certain types of conditions, and probably a certain first-change bowler when India player overseas. Ishant Sharma is now India’s first reserve.
To a large extent, this explains why India managed to win every other home Test in the first 12 years of this century. Recent visitors to India have had nowhere the hide, no respite when Ashwin or Jadeja tire or lose potency. Between 2001 and 2012, visiting teams declared on India 14 times, while India declared on visiting teams 20 times. Since 2013, India have declared on visiting teams eight times. Visiting teams have declared on India twice. One of those was Michael Clarke declaring at 237/9 late on the first day in the hope of getting an early wicket in Hyderabad in 2013. Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay added 370 for the secondnd wicket when India batted and the hosts eventually won by an innings and 135 runs. The improved depth of India’s bowling ensures that the runs scored by the batsmen go further.
The success of this Indian team is due to improved depth, especially in bowling. Previous Indian teams, led by MS Dhoni or Rahul Dravid or Anil Kumble, had two or three players who were individually better than anybody in this side. But in the current side all 11 spots are occupied by players who are a persistent threat to the opposition. This is a new kind of team. It needs to be viewed in a different way. The old model of analysis, which had the star performer who was lionised for centuries and berated for low scores, was poor. With this team, not only is it a poor model of analysis, it is now obsolete.