India; the next dynasty
This is purely about test cricket sorry not sorry xoxo
Throughout the history of cricket there have been only a few teams who can throw their hat in the ring when the discussion of the greatest ever arises. A team so superb for such a long time that they will truly never be forgotten. Of course there are the main contenders of the West Indians of the 80s, Bradman's invincibles, the South Africans of the late 1960s and more recently and arguably the best side ever Steve Waugh's Australians. Then there are the teams who can lay a serious claim but never truly hit the levels of the aforementioned greats. Graeme Smith's Proteas probably have the strongest case to be involved in the list; India in the mid 2000s were an amazing side but never truly dominant away from home; England 2010-2012 were superb but not great for long enough and the 05 side? Well that was one summer after all. In the coming year India can quite easily begin the ascent into being recognised as one of the greatest teams of all time and to become ranked among those who have gone.
There’s a few things that every single one of the teams I’ve already mentioned have in common. For one they all have a whole host of talented players coming together to create this perfect cocktail of excellence and class that is viable in every corner of the globe. I mean when you look at any of the sides already mentioned they are filled with some of the greatest players to ever grace the game. I mean McGrath, Holding, Procter and Miller isn’t a half bad bowling attack. Well when I look at the current Indian line up there are a number of players who have the ability to break into that bracket and in turn help India become one of the best teams of all time.
The obvious place to start is India's big 3: Kohli, Jadeja, Ashwin. When India have these 3 on the pitch at the same time the game is already tipped in their favour. They have every basis covered. In Kohli they have one of the greatest batsmen of all time and in Ashwin and Jadeja they have the two greatest spinners of their generation. All 3 of these players burst onto the scene at the same time and form the fulcrum of India's unmatched success. Not only this but all of 3 of these men have done it in all conditions and have bounced back as the greats do. Each of them will go down as some of the truly greatest players India, and the world, have ever seen. These same players also fall under the great umbrella term of ‘match winners’. The guys who have the unquantifiable ability to grab a game by the scruff of the neck and go ‘hold on no this isn’t how it’s supposed to go’. The guys who in a session win you a game with no questions asked. Out of the 3 though, for me, Ashwin is the best at this. Ashwin holds an unmatched ability-Pat Cummins and James Anderson are his only rivals in this category- who no matter the circumstances can consistently get you back into a game. Well to become a dynasty and to go down as legends of the game you need tales of legendary matches and legendary players. Think Bradmans 300 in a day, or say Ashwin's hundred and 9 fer at Chennai.
Ashwin raises the bat at Chennai earlier this year
Then we move onto the side acts; think Gomes not Richards. Players who are very good but not great and are often forgotten due to the success of their contemporaries. India has quite a few of these. Pujara is someone who in most other modern test sides would be considered a great but in India his wicket is cheered off as it more often than not brings the skipper to the crease. Rohit Sharma is one of the great cricketers of recent times but he is overshadowed again by Kohli but also by his mediocre away record. Any of the pacers- despite being the best attack in the world- are consistently outshone by the spin twins. India has a lot of great if not superb players in their side but we just don’t quite realise it yet. However as they tour more and more outside of Asia we will see their attack show us just how good they truly are.
Then we have the young talent. There always has to be some. Think Michael Clarke for Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. The player who gets bums off seats and brings that bit of spark- or naivety depending on whether or not your reverse sweep of Jimmy Anderson goes for 4 or gets caught at slip- that the battled hardened titans have lost from years of grinding towards excellence. Well I mean we all know who it is surely? Yes, of course one could monologue for days about the sheer beauty of Shubman Gill and the elegance and grace of the backfoot cut that sounds like a gunshot off the bat and makes the ball race to the fence like a greyhound who has just heard one. But that would be doing a disservice to the greatest young talent in world cricket in Rishabh Pant. There were some doubts about Pant a few months ago. I mean even after striking two overseas test hundreds people still didn’t believe in him; Pant wasn’t even in the test side for god's sake! Since then he’s been the breath of fresh air that India needs to make sure this squad doesn’t turn stale and most importantly he’s delivering in all conditions against all kinds of bowlers. Pant is a master at his work and… Honestly this may appear as a facade for lazy writing but there’s nothing I can say on Pant that I or someone else hasn’t already written. We all know how good he is, we all love him and we all want to watch him bat. It's as simple as that.
On youth a hefty amount of praise has to be handed to Rahul Dravid and the work he has done with India's ever expanding pool of precocious young talent. If it wasn’t for Dravid then the likes of Pant, Shaw, Gill and Sundar wouldn’t be where they are now.
The final aspect for the squad is depth. I mean what does a team do when their premier left armer falls ill? Just replace him with another one. India has a ridiculous talent pool. I mean it’s built into the ground, has an electric cover and is permanently heated. Of course this should be expected for a country who holds host to a population of 1 billion, 100% of which want to make it into the national cricket side. Did no one else find themselves chuckling when India were deciding between Shaw, Agarwal and Gill to partner Rohit? Does the fact that Mohammad Siraj isn’t even a first choice seamer after his recent heroics not make anyone else just stop and think for a moment as to how ridiculous their talent pool is. India has an obscene amount of depth and if dynasties were judged off of this and this alone chances are they would top the list.
So they have the squad fine but what else? Well of course to be considered among the greatest you need to be imperious at home. Has there ever been a side better and more dominant than India at home right now? I mean even Steve Waugh's Australia lost the occasional game but this India team don’t lose. 2 losses in 8 years is just absurd I mean it’s just absurd. The game plan is simple and takes 1 of 2 routes. Either 1) we create a road and we bat you into the ground for 3 days the pitch becomes a bunsen we bowl you out we win; or 2) the pitch is a bunsen we bowl you out we win. India is amazing at this. I mean they’re just incredible and the monotonous regularity with which they pull off this game plan is just unfathomable. Even England who haven’t lost a home test series since 2014 aren’t this good; they require many games of individual brilliance differing conditions and moments of luck. India on the other hand; you know what’s going to happen before a ball is even bowled.
It’s not as if this has happened by chance as well. India have played the numbers and played them well. The same game plan isn’t used for each opposition. A good example of this is the day night games between India and Bangladesh and India and England. In the former India prepared a wicket that was undoubtedly more conducive to seam and lateral movement. Why? Well for starters India have a good pace attack and Bangladesh don’t and then Indian batsmen are better at facing seam than their Bangladeshi counterparts. Hurrah a comprehensive Indian victory with all 19 wickets falling to seam. Then fast forward a bit to Ahemanabad and we have another day night game but this time against England. England have a much better seam attack than India and a far weaker spin attack, their batsmen have really struggled against spin in the series but they’re ok against pace and seam movement in fact they’re demonstrably better than the Indian batsmen. What do they do? Well we all know what happened but if you don’t let's put it this way Joe Root (part time off spinner not very good) took 5-8 and the game was the shortest test match since WW2. So yeah India is dominant at home for a reason.
But every side is good at home. In fact it’s rather embarrassing not to be. Winning away is what matters and this is where India can plant the seeds for their dynasty. Winning in the subcontinent should be no real issue for India and it isn’t. In 2017 they registered what I believe to be the most comprehensive away series victory in modern history against Sri Lanka winning by 304 runs then an innings and an innings again. But outside of the subcontinent India have struggled, until recently. Before I discuss the recent past and the not so distant future we must go back to 2014.
In 2014 India was in a heap. They’d been trounced by England losing 3-1 and in the final 3 games of the series England scored more in their first innings than India managed in their two combined; England won the last 2 games by an innings each. Kohli was horrifically out of form and it all went to pot. Then they toured Australia, where hammered and Dhoni retired from test cricket leaving a young Virat Kohli- who at the time was engaged in the most fascinating contest of one upping each other with Steve Smith- to skipper the side. In my opinion this was when Indian cricket changed. They became ruthless, aggressive and most of all they began to compete away from home showing more and more signs of actually winning.
Kohli struggled in 2014 against England averaging 13 across 10 innings
2018 was the year it finally started to come together and it should come as no surprise that it was in this year that Kohli was at his absolute best hitting 1322 runs in 13 inns averaging 55 with 5 100s (including two in England where he had previously struggled). Against South Africa it was a tight series on some poor wickets and although India lost they did win 1 game. Against England they were arguably the better side against across the series only losing out on the key moments in matches and or degrees of luck- or in other words Sam Curran. The seam attack was still raw and being nurtured but Japrit Bumrha, Ishant Sharma 2.0 and Mohammad Shami were showing signs of something special. Then came the moment, the moment it all clicked. Well to call it a moment instead of one of the most complete away test performances in recent memory is a bit unfair. The Border Gavaskar trophy 2018/19 could well end up being remembered as the series in which India began their rise towards becoming one of the greatest teams of all time. Everyone was magnificent. The pace attack had matured and this was it, this was the team India had been waiting for. One could not help but feel this is the start of something.
Role on a few months and a super over later India crushed the West Indies away from home twice by a margin of 250+ runs. The aforementioned Bangladesh were then promptly dealt with and dispatched. Then came a stumbling block as New Zealand humbled India. India fell victim to their own game as New Zealand devised the perfect game plan to deal with these batsmen. Get the ball moving. India lost 2-0 and their highlight of the series was all in all a Ravindra Jadeja catch. India had once again shown a weakness against the moving red ball the same nemesis that had haunted them 18 months earlier in England. However one positive was undoubtedly the continued rise of Ishant Sharma who has become one of the best bowlers in the world and India's best bowler who since 2018 has taken 77 wickets at an average of 19.
Now for every great side there has to be a bounceback. A comeback that can be told for years to come. A story so famous that anyone can know it from a few words- “grovel” will make a few England fans shudder to their core. For Indian fans this will be “can’t wait to see you at the Gabba” the perfect phrase to sum up the perfect series. Everything I have mentioned before this was present in this series victory. The world class talent of Ashwin and Jadeja, the work man like approach of Pujara. The beauty and excitement of Gill and Pant. The squad depth of Siraj and co. I mean it truly was the ultimate test of the side. Of their metal, their ability to dig deep when it counted and most of all their ability to confirm their status as the games contemporary greats. It’s safe to say they rose to the occasion and they crushed Australia hardly giving them a sniff, beating them at their own game, mastering tricky conditions, battling hard at the SCG and most of all breaking the Gabbatoir and thereby showing everyone that two years ago wasn’t a mere flash in the pan. Dave Warner and Steve Smith weren’t the difference between the two sides. No, instead India was just better.
India celebrate winning the Border Gavaskar trophy in 2021
So here we are. India have just crushed England at home and they face the same opposition again in a few months but first they have the inaugural ICC world test championship final to play and this is against New Zealand the number 1 ranked side in the world. The same team who beat them a little over a year ago. The WTC final will undoubtedly be one for the ages but most of all this match is one that will make or break this Indian side. Say they win and become the first holders of the world test championship then perhaps they beat England in England, rather convincingly too, then maybe just maybe it’s time we begin to recognise the greatness that is unravelling before us? Hey it’s just a thought…