Cheteshwar Pujara’s knocks in Delhi Test affirmed his solidity and also showed that he has now eased into the Indian setup © PTI
By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Having tasted the ignominy of a whitewash Down Under, it was payback time for India. A 4-0 scoreline indicates domination, which is remarkable for a side that lost 1-2 to England late last year. MS Dhoni and his men have bounced back in style with consistent and convincing performances.
It was evident at the outset that the selectors meant business when they dropped Gautam Gambhir from the side. Virender Sehwag’s two poor outings weren’t tolerated either as he too was shown the door. Murali Vijay, who had been waiting for a long run at the highest level, capitalised on his opportunity with a mature approach, playing as per the requirements of the team than his own strengths. His adaptability was quite impressive. There was a sense of temperance to his batting as he calmly occupied the crease at one end to stitch together some critical partnerships.
While Vijay’s re-entry was steady, Shikhar Dhawan’s introduction to Test cricket was a record-shattering affair. The Delhi southpaw played with a Sehwag-like fearlessness on Test debut and blasted his way to a memorable century. That he wasn’t fit for the last Test was unfortunate and one would have to wait to watch Vijay and Dhawan bat in tandem again. They complemented each other well.
Along with Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara has been India’s biggest positive in the batting. The double hundred was a fantastic knock, but his most impressive performance came at Delhi — where he opened the batting and scored two fifties on a difficult track. That affirmed his solidity and also showed that he has now eased into the Indian setup.
Sachin Tendulkar looked good and was moving well at the crease throughout the series. His performance at Chennai was crucial as India had an early wobble in the first innings. He may not have lived up to his high standards, but the signs were positive as he didn’t look the tentative player who failed against England. The only question is: What next?
The real catalyst of India’s transformation was MS Dhoni the batsman. With the game in the balance in the first Test at Chennai, his double century snatched the advantage from the Australians. It was good to see that attacking streak return to his Test repertoire as he is at his best with that intent. For now, he is the answer to India’s No 6 conundrum, until they find a more permanent option. Through all that, Virat Kohli was also an important man in the middle and scripted a few crucial knocks.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were the biggest stars as they spun a web around the Australian batsmen. Pragyan Ojha too didn’t do his reputation any harm in his two outings. Ashwin made amends from the series against England and delivered the goods with phenomenal consistency. Jadeja’s growth as a player during the series augurs well for India as he seems to have changed certain aspects of his bowling. He is ready to give the ball more air and has also purchased copious turn on occasions. His batting faltered initially, but picked up towards the end of the series. The fifer at Delhi was the icing on the cake.
The biggest misses for India were Ajinkya Rahane and Harbhajan Singh. Rahane’s patient wait for the Test cap came to an anti-climatic end as he batted in the middle when most expected him to open. The twin failures would be a setback and he would have to bide his time for another opportunity.
Nevertheless, the whole scenario does beg a few questions. Firstly, if India were intent of playing him in the middle, why wasn’t he given a run much earlier when he was warming the bench? Secondly, had Gambhir been fit (was included for the fourth Test, but opted out due to jaundice), would Rahane have even got a chance?
Harbhajan’s attempts at a comeback aren’t going according to plan as the other spinners are stealing his thunder. There were times when it looked like he had the zing, but he needs to convince the selectors that he can do it more consistently. It is unlikely that he would go to South Africa as spin will have a limited role to play there. With Ashwin, Ojha and Jadeja in the fray, Harbhajan’s chances look slim.
Meanwhile, India have to seriously think about their pace department as they would need more artillery in South Africa. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma did not have much to do in this series owing to the spin-friendly tracks, but it would be a different cup of tea in South Africa. They put in those impact performances in this series, but they can thrive overseas. Once the injured pacers regain fitness, India would have more options to choose from as they would want to bolster that department.
In a nutshell, it was a much needed victory for Dhoni, as his leadership has been under scrutiny for some time now. A 2-0 or even a 2-1 series win would have been lauded, but to clinch the contest 4-0 will surely silence the critics for the time being. It is imperative that Dhoni envisions a plan for the overseas tours as that would ultimately determine his legacy as a Test captain.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)