Sydney: Indian cricket got its new seminal moment after talismanic Virat Kohli led the country to a maiden series victory on Australian soil, ending a 71-year wait to script a golden chapter in the game’s history.
The fourth and final Test match at the SCG petered to a barren draw due to inclement weather but not before providing India with a 2-1 series win and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
It is a rare first Down Under for India since Lala Amarnath’s side visited the country back in 1947-48 months after independence to face Sir Don Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’.
“Firstly, I want to say I’ve never been more proud of being part of a team, than this one right here. The culture we’ve built… our transition began right here, where I took over as captain, and I can’t believe that after four years we’ve won here. Just one word to say, ‘proud’, to lead this team and it’s an honour and privilege. The boys make the captain look good,” an elated skipper Virat Kohli said after the mission was accomplished.
Things turned out to be a bit of anti-climactic in the end as India had a fair chance of adding insult to the injury with a 3-1 victory margin as they got the home team to follow-on in their den for the first time in 30 years after scoring 622 in their only innings. It was a ‘freeze the frame’ as the Indian team took a ‘Lap of Honour’ of the SCG with the both Indian and Australian fans cheering them.
“This is history and a terrific moment for Indian cricket,” said country’s greatest opener Sunil Gavaskar.
Such was the fragility of the Australian batting, a full day’s play possibly could have been enough to win a record three Test matches in a single series in Australia had the heavens not opened up While Australian batting was severely handicapped due to the suspensions of their premier batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner but it can take nothing away from the heady achievement of Kohli’s men, who have conquered an unchartered frontier with a lion-hearted display.
If this victory is put into perspective with some of Indian cricket’s famous away series wins, it will be right up there both in terms of novelty as well as quality. Alongside Ajit Wadekar’s side’s twin triumph in the West Indies and England in 1971, Kapil’s Devils or Rahul Dravid’s sides’ winning the 1986 or 2007 series in England, the members of the current side have now successfully etched their names in record books.
Skipper Kohli, who has always focussed on the endeavour to make his team the best travelling side, has been finally able to walk the talk after the disappointments in South Africa and England where poor batting let the team down during some of the defining sessions.
In Australia however, it was a near flawless team effort from India, especially the bowling unit which has set it up for its batsmen for the better part of last year. While skipper Kohli hit the best hundred of the series in terms of sheer class on a difficult Perth Stadium track, the unflappable Cheteshwar Pujara (521) and the unconventional Jasprit Bumrah (21 wickets) were the heroes of the memorable ‘first’. With their full focus on how to decode Kohli’s genius, Australian team led by an out of depth Tim Paine realised late that Pujara has struck from the ‘blind side’ with his near perfect defensive technique and three hundreds.
However it was their batting that let them down and a one piece of statistic will scare the die-hard Aussie fans. The highest score by an Australian batsman in the just-concluded four-match series is 79 by rookie opener Marcus Harris. Leave alone a three-figure score, none of the Australian batsman could even cross the 80-run barrier, something that legends like Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne, Mike Hussey, Ian Chappell found difficult to fathom.
Whether it was the awkward angles along created by Bumrah along with some incisive movements, Mohammed Shami getting it to rip on occasions, Ishant Sharma hitting the right length over after over, India never had it so good in terms of consistency in overseas conditions.
Ravichandran Ashwin before he got injured and Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav also played their part to perfection as Indian bowlers put up relentless pressure on the home team batsmen. While young Prithvi Shaw missed out due to an ankle injury, Mayank Agarwal made most of his chances after an eternal wait for the India cap with two half centuries.
Rishabh Pant with 350 runs and a sparkling hundred at the SCG with a record number of dismissals in an away series has now established himself as India’s No 1 wicketkeeper in the Test format. For Kohli, this series was more about his leadership choices rather than his insane batting efforts which was comparatively muted by his lofty standards.
His bowling changes were spot on and while team selection in Perth came under scanner, no one can question the intent of the Indian skipper, who has shown that he only plays to win a Test match. No other Asian captain leave alone Indian captain has won four away Test matches in South Africa, England and Australia in a single calender year.
While India now gear up to switch format, Kohli’s biggest takeaway will be the confidence before they start their perparations for the ODI World Cup.