India’s upswing during a long and gruelling 13-Test season can be attributed to a positive mindset at all times. Forget the pitches. It was clear from the start that India would prepare tracks suited to spin and let their opponents do the chasing.
Utilising the conditions was expected and done. But reading the game correctly at critical junctures was where India won the big points. New Zealand toured first and was demolished 3-0. India was unstoppable, with both the batting and bowling in top gear.
The big challenge was from the first Big Boys to tour – England. The first Test provided an opportunity to display grit as India and captain Virat Kohli survived some tricky overs to save the game. England felt they had gained the upper hand. But India thought differently.
On a track, which did not offer much spin, India’s spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja simply destroyed England with clever spin and guile. That complemented Kohli’s dominance with the bat in the match with 167 and 81 runs in each innings.
The momentum now shifted towards India. The body language reflected dominance and all negative thoughts disappeared. England simply perished in the next two Tests as India dictated terms with both bat and ball.
So one top team was sent packing with captain Alistair Cook paying the price by giving up the captaincy.
Bangladesh came and went, performing better but failing in the end. Now was the turn of the Big Mouth Bullies. Australia so desperately wanted to win in the Sub-continent after a massive loss to Sri Lanka just a few months earlier.
They began to prepare for this long before the tour started with camps in Dubai to learn to bowl spin and bat against it. The first Test in Pune on a spinning track was a washout for India. They succumbed meekly to what they were good at – spin.
Suddenly there was a bit of a panic. Cricket pundits were saying that turning wickets should not be prepared. The Aussie mouths began to wag with former players throwing insinuations to wind up the Indians. Insults were hurled on the field and off if.
Then came Bengaluru. The script seemed to be the same as India crumbled to the wiles of Nathan Lyon in the first innings. Things changed dramatically after that as India took the battle to the Aussies in three days of fighting cricket.
On a wicket which had cracks, Australia failed to chase a target of 188, falling meekly to the off-spin of Ashwin. This was an absorbing game. India should the kind of pluck which makes a champion.
The third Test ended in a draw after Australia managed to bat out long sessions to save the game. Just before the fourth Test, both sides claimed momentum. But by this time, India was gathering themselves for the kill.
Session after session India gained the upper hand at crucial junctures and an eight-wicket victory capped a magnificent season. Ultimately, India seems like a complete team now. Their pacemen bowled their hearts out in unfavourable conditions and made telling blows.
Ashwin and Jadeja did well as expected, the latter even improving his batting skills. Though he lost form during the series against Australia, Kohli was the game changer for India.
His great run of form most of the season and his aggressive brand of captaincy helped to bind the team together. Umesh Yadav came of age this season while Jayant Yadav and Kuldeep Yadav underlined the talent available in the country.
Often berated for his slow scoring, Cheteshwar Pujara had a great run with big knocks. Wriddhiman Saha also played many crucial knocks and claimed India’s No 1 wicketkeeping spot. In retrospect, it was a team effort. Most importantly, India stayed positive despite reverses and learnt the basic tenet of every sport – never give up.
Kohli deserves a salute for changing the face of Indian cricket.