The 4-0 scoreline is a first in the 80-year old history of Indian cricket. Yet, there is the tendency to trivialise the victory because of home conditions and weak opponent, and make doomsday prophecies about South Africa. Arunabha Sengupta argues that it may be wise to enjoy the moment and look at the positives.
The scoreline is unsettling. This is the first time India have won four Tests in a series since setting off on their journey in Test cricket eight decades earlier. In 1992-93, they had won 3-0 against Graham Gooch’s Englishmen and in the following year they had inflicted three consecutive innings defeats on Sri Lanka. Those results had thus far tied for the highest margin of series victory. The only other time India had won three Tests in a series was in 1967-68 against New Zealand, when Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi’s men triumphed 3-1 in that island nation.
On the other hand, it is only for the third time in 135 years that the Australians have been trounced by a margin of four Tests. There had been the 5-1 debacle against England when a second-string side turned out for the Ashes in 1978-79, with most of the stars being away for World Series Cricket. The other occasion, the only other 4-0 result, was against the South Africans of 1969-70, when Dr. Ali Bacher’s brigade of the Pollocks, Barry Richards, Mike Proctor, Eddie Barlow and the rest triumphed in all the four Test matches.
That victorious South African team never played again in Tests. The dark clouds of apartheid and Gleneagles Agreement kept them isolated from the world for 21 years. By popular consensus that team is still considered to have been the best side of their era, the only ones who could have possibly given the rampaging West Indians a run for their money in the late seventies.
In many ways the just concluded home series has seen the current Indian team notch up equally remarkable feats, erect milestones that are rare in the cricketing landscape, unique even in their own terrain. However, not many voices are heard airing eulogies akin to the ones reserved for the famed South African outfit.
A study in similarities
True. Man for man, the Springboks were a much superior team — at least given the current stature of the Indian youngsters. One hopes that in not too distant future the Cheteshwar Pujaras and the Virat Kohlis will find their rightful places alongside the pantheon of all-time great batsmen, but for now it may be foolhardy to tag them alongside the august names of Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards.
And, of course, only in jest can we link Ravindra Jadeja’s name to the greatest all-rounders — although the joke has become sickeningly stale and perhaps needs the windows of the mind to be forced open to allow the light of recent statistics to filter in.
But, what seems unfair to this Indian team is the way their remarkable achievement has been trivialised by citing home advantage and weak opposition.
True, this is not really the best Australian side we have seen in recent times. But, allow me to point out that neither was the 1969-70 team that was routed by South Africa. If this Australian side has looked beleaguered and has been afflicted with peculiar problems like the Homework-gate, Bill Lawry’s team was a disgruntled lot engaged in constant bickering with the management regarding their pay packages. That Australian team had been a tired unit, with players exhausted after a long, arduous tour of India. Many of them had threatened to walk out if their financial demands were not met.
If the current Australians are perceived weak because of some pedestrian performances on the tour, the earlier team was as badly hit. Sixteen catches were dropped in the four Tests due to mental and physical fatigue. Discontent simmered in the unit. Graham McKenzie, their principal strike bowler, ended with figures of one for 333 in the Tests, raising suspicions that he was suffering from hepatitis.
Again, this is not a comparison of the old South Africans and modern Indians. The point is that the South Africans did get accolades for achieving the 4-0 scoreline against those Australians, and deservingly so. Similarly, the Indians should be given all the credit they deserve for defeating the present day Australians by a similar margin.
Yes, we do know that these Test matches were played at home. However, given that any side needs to play approximately half their games in their own country, success in familiar conditions should not be junked with callous lack of acknowledgement.
It may be wise to revel in the present
It is common enough knowledge that the true test of the team will come in South Africa. The argument has been repeated so often by now that one tends to hear it in one’s sleep. However, it seems rather farcical to belittle a momentous accomplishment by wondering what might take place several months down the line in the Rainbow Country.
Valid questions do persist. Will Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay succeed on fast bouncy wickets? Will Pujara be as prolific when the scene of action changes to the difficult tracks of South Africa? Will Ravichandran Ashwin be as effective on tracks that will be less conducive to spin? Can Jadeja fulfil the role of the all-rounder? Will Sachin Tendulkar be available for the tour?
All the questions are relevant and should definitely be addressed. But, for now, it is necessary that we allow the team to savour their success. And hard as it may be, we can endeavour to turn over a new leaf ourselves and revel in the fantastic result, rather than cooking up excuses for the victory.
In the press conference that followed after the final Test, MS Dhoni was openly sarcastic. And in a way, he has earned the right.
Yes, we know that immediately after the World Cup triumph, the team was trounced by 0-4 margins in Australia and England. Ageing stars, loss of form of openers, lack of focus, everything contributed to the failures. Back home, India did lose a series against England. It was the first series they had played without Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman in the middle order. The transition did come at a price.
The team was written off. There was no confidence in the captain and his mates. In the midst of all this, MS Dhoni pulled things back with a miraculous double hundred that can very well become the watershed moment for Indian cricket. He backed some players against the common line of thought, the selectors refused to go with the numerous popular poll results that dumped most of the team along with the captain. And now these players have delivered and brought about a resounding, unprecedented win for India.
For a team going through a process of rebuilding this has been a magnificent turnaround. The players deserve all the kudos for their victory. The captain is worthy of the loftiest praise for leading from the front and guiding the team so excellently through the transition. Not even the most prejudiced critic can parrot the oft-repeated lines that this team was built for him by someone else. Finally, the selectors too deserve to be complimented for refusing to be carried away by the waves of fanaticism.
The series was always going to be important. Any series against Australia is. And Indians have come out with flying colours. Plenty of positives have emerged in the four Tests. Hopefully, this will enable them to embark on the South African odyssey with full confidence.
But, for now, it is essential to enjoy the fruits of all the hard work that has gone into engineering the triumph.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry.He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)