Virat Kohli was emotional as he summed up the magnitude of the Indian cricket team’s achievement. The Indian skipper, still feeling the effects of a win which broke 71 years of pain for India in Australia, called this his biggest achievement, greater than the 2011 World Cup win. Ravi Shastri, speaking in the post-match press conference, said the win is bigger than the 1983 World Cup victory which boosted Indian cricket’s profile. In a nutshell, this series win, albeit against an Australian side that were missing the services of David Warner and Steve Smith due to the ball-tampering scandal is massive. Let us consider the names in previous Indian teams who did not win a series in Australia and one gets to understand how big it really is.
Vijay Hazare and Vijay Merchat, two legends in Indian cricket, toured Australia but never won a game or series. The likes of Nawab of Pataudi and ML Jaisimha never won in Australia. Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, Bishan Singh Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar all toured Australia but did not win a series. Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag all toured Australia, but they were denied a golden chance, especially in 2003/04 when Australia had rested key players or were missing players due to injury. MS Dhoni also came and went. Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly retired all to never win a Test series Down Under.
Kohli was denied in 2014/15 and there was plenty of cynicism heading into the series in 2018/19. India had lost in South Africa 1-2 and in England 1-4. The loss against an England side, especially against batsmen suffering from poor form, was galling. Muddled selections, misreading of the pitch and conditions and wrong team selections all contributed to extending India’s winless streak in the SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) to near a decade.
India put up an inspired show in Adelaide, led by Cheteshwar Pujara’s century and fifty on a tough pitch and with the bowling attack of Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Ravichandran Ashwin contributing to a 31-run win. However, misreading the conditions and selecting the wrong team, a factor which had plagued them on previous tours, came back to haunt them in Perth. On a green pitch, they picked four pacers and left out a spinner and India lost the game. With the four-match series level 1-1, it seemed it was a familiar tale of woes.
Getting the act together
Heading into the Boxing Day Test, there was confusion in the Indian camp. Ashwin was not fit while Shastri announced that Jadeja was also not 100 percent fit. The team composition was once again proving to be a big conundrum. On top of that, India was going to open with two new players at the top for the first time ever. Crucially, Kohli picked three pacers and a spinner in Jadeja, which was ideal for a crumbling Melbourne deck. India had read the conditions correctly. Crucially, they won the toss and utilized the best conditions of the match. Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari saw out the new ball, Pujara and Kohli stitched an aggressive stand and India reached a total which was going to test an Australian batting low on confidence.
Bumrah, Shami, Ishant and Jadeja were rotated brilliantly by Kohli and set right fields. It helped for India that Australia was not technically equipped to handle the Indian bowlers. Although some flutters were raised, Kohli was clear what had to be done when India batted second again despite a big lead. He did admit in the press conference, “It's a good thing that I don't read any comments or what the opinions are.” Bumrah, who picked up 6/33 in the first innings, worked in tandem with the other bowlers to complete a famous win.
In Sydney, another crucial toss was won and India once again picked the best XI suited for the conditions. The Sydney pitch is known to assist spin even if there is grass covering and India included Kuldeep Yadav. Pujara and Rishabh Pant slammed fifties and India had registered 622/7 declared, their second-highest Test score in Australia. India had made themselves safe with their performance on the first two days and Kuldeep’s 5/99 to bowl Australia out was the icing on the cake.
A combination of reading the conditions correctly, picking the right team composition, having a clear mind, having a rock in the middle order were the key factors that helped India avoid the fate they suffered in South Africa and England. Make no mistake: This win is massive. It eliminates all the past pains suffered overseas. It eliminates decades, generations and eras of hurt in Australia. Virat Kohli, indeed, has scripted history. The start of 2019 could not have been better.