Sandeep Sahu

Let us not allow ourselves to be distracted by the needless – and ill-timed – debate over whether this was ‘bigger than 1983’ or whether Virat is ‘greater’ than Sachin. Those debates can wait for another day. Right now, it’s time to rejoice, celebrate and revel in the sweet smell of victory. After all, it has taken us 71 years and 14 tours to do what we have just achieved – a series win against Australia in Kangaroo land!

As an incorrigible fan of Test cricket in an age of slam-bang cricket, this is what I have been waiting for all my life since that memorable tour in 1977-78 that hooked me to the longer version: a series win against the Kangaroos in their home turf. We have beaten them in India on numerous occasions, including a 4-0 whitewash as recently as 2012-13. We have also drawn a few Down Under, most memorably in 1980-81 when the lion-hearted Kapil Dev, left thigh strapped because of a torn muscle, bowled his heart out from a shortened run up to skittle Australia, chasing a paltry target of 143, out for 83 with a magnificent spell of controlled fast bowling that read 16.4 overs, 4 maidens, 28 runs and 5 wickets (three of them clean bowled, mind you!) at the giant Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Kapil’s heroics helped India come from 1-0 behind and level the series 1-1.

But nothing, absolutely nothing, comes even close to the enormity of what our boys have just done. The 2-1 victory margin may suggest that the contest was too close for comfort. But it is completely misleading. Even if we discount the fact that it would certainly have been 3-1 at Sydney had the rain gods not bailed out the Aussies with a perfectly timed intervention, there was no mistaking which was the better of the two sides through the series. For a change, even the Australian media, which in the past has often behaved as the PR wing of their national team, has accepted – grudgingly or otherwise - that India were the better side by a mile in every department of the game.

Personally, the smell of victory Down Under is all the more sweeter because Cheteshwar Pujara, who has just earned the sobriquet ‘the worst dancer in the world’ (to add to his dubious distinction as the only ‘unsold’ Grade-1 player in the IPL), has emerged the best batsman in the series on either side by a distance, leaving even Virat Kohli, right now the unquestioned best batsman in the world, behind. I am pretty sure no one will be happier than Virat himself about the fact that the victory in the first Test at Adelaide came without a major contribution from himself in either innings for a change. ‘Puji’ – and Ajinkya Rahane - stepped up just when he himself, for a change, ‘failed’ in relative terms. And when the regular openers failed regularly, Mayank Agarwal flew down all the way from India to make the opening slot his own – at least in the near future – after just two Tests.

And what can one say about Rishabh Pant? The diminutive dasher from Delhi has showed – just as he had done in the last Test in England - that it is eminently possible to carry the ‘Devil may care’ attitude to batting to Test cricket and still succeed. Just eight Tests old, this young man has already wrote his name indelibly in the record books as the first Indian wicketkeeper-batsman to score a century Down Under. And what an innings it was! I can’t remember the last time the Aussie bowlers looked so utterly helpless and clueless in their home turf as they did during the course of his innings of 159 not out at the SCG. As Ricky Ponting has predicted, he would score many more centuries than Dhoni before he hangs up his boot. With a little more experience, he could effortlessly settle into the No. 6 slot and give his captain the luxury of picking five bowlers every time. His wicket keeping, which was a bit of concern at the start, is constantly improving. And the best part is that he is all of 21!

As for the bowlers, they have continued doing the magnificent work they began in South Africa last year and carried through to England last summer. Experts are unanimous that had our batsmen collectively performed as well as our bowlers did, we could have so easily reversed the score lines: 1-2 in South Africa and 1-3 in Old Blighty. Jasprit Bumrah has been a revelation since he burst into the Test scene in Proteas’ country and has firmly ensconced himself as our pace spearhead no matter where we are playing. The ‘moody’ Mohammed Shami can be exasperating at times, spraying the ball all over, especially when there is not much at stake. But give him a situation where there is a match to be won and – my word – he can be well nigh unplayable and single-handedly win a match for his side. It is no coincidence that his most devastating spells have almost always come in the second innings, the most recent being the 6-56 he took at Perth. The performance created a situation where we could have won had our batsmen put their heads down and scored the 287 needed to win the match. Old warhorse Ishant Sharma has effortlessly slipped into his role as the ‘elder statesman’ – guiding the likes of Shami and Bumrah while himself coming up with incisive spells with increasingly regularity these days.

And Kuldeep Yadav has never failed to deliver whenever he has been called up for Test duty. I, for one, would stick my neck out and make a strong case for him to be our first choice spinner – even ahead of Ravichandran Ashwin – no matter where we play simply because he, unlike his more illustrious team mate, does not need any assistance from the wicket to be effective. His five-for on an unresponsive Syndey pitch is ample proof of that.

This brings me to the question of captaincy. The jury is still out on whether he is a better batsman than Sachin. But there is no doubt in my mind that Virat Kohli is the best captain we have had in the four decades that I have followed Test cricket passionately. Man to man, I don’t think this side is any better than some of the other sides that have toured Down Under in the past. The likes of Sachin, Sourav, Rahul, Laxman and Sehwag – all of them playing together – are certainly a better set of batsmen than Virat, Pujara,  Rahane, Rahul, Mayank and Hanuma. For all their magnificent exploits in the last year or so, Messrs. Sharma, Shami, Bumrah and Kuldeep too are no better than Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Zaheer Khan and Anil Kumble. The one thing that helped India achieve in this series what has eluded it for 71 years was the captaincy of Virat. Notwithstanding his occasional selection blunders, he has clearly knitted the team together and instilled in it the belief that it can win anywhere and from any situation like no captain has done before.

On the field, his energy and passion have clearly rubbed off on others. Unlike his predecessors, he believes in giving as good as he gets and that has worked wonders for the team, notwithstanding the upturned nostrils of some ex cricketers at some of his more unpalatable antics on the field. Naseeruddin Shah may well be right when he says “Virat is the worst behaved captain in the world.” But if that is what it takes for our boys to win abroad, so be it! If it is a choice between the ‘worst touring side’ and the ‘worst behaved team’, I, for one, would prefer the latter any day.

Nice guys, as they say, don’t win cricket matches!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)

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