Four-nil means no more 0-4s?
An Indian team winning 4-0 is a rare thing. Indian teams do not do dominance. They do not hand out a thumping, and then continue to do so. Usually the foot comes off the pedal, a series win is settled for, and the draw is chosen. They especially would not be thought capable of doing dominance a short while after having suffered a rare defeat at home, one in which their bowling attack looked threadbare and inept. But exert dominance is just what the Indian team has done in this past series against the Australian team.
It is too early to say whether this series win signals any sort of novelty in Indian Test cricket. I have borne witness too long to too many events in Indian cricketing history that were deemed seminal, revolutionary; and all of the rest to draw extravagant conclusions from its occurrence. What this series does permit is a revisitation of some remarkable individual and team performances, ones which ensured that despite losing all four tosses, and facing the prospects of batting last in each game, India won all four Tests. It will also permit the debunking of the silliest myth associated with the Indian win: that it was all about the designer pitches.
Last things first. In the first Test, Australia scored 380, and India replied with 572. In the second Test, India scored 503. In the third Test, India responded to 408 with 499. It was only in the fourth Test that we got scorelines that might have indicated a raging turner. But the Kotla does not seem to have played like one, just like the first three Tests. Rather, in each case, there was some turn, wear and unpredictable bounce. Indian spinners bowled tight line and lengths, and Australian batsmen lacked patience. And in each case, India batted better.
The Indian batting was not perfect; some of their big scores resulted from lopsided scorecards, where one big partnership propped up the order. But those big partnerships were missing on the Australian side. And if the pitches were spin-friendly, the Australian bowling did not do as well on them as the Indian ones did. Ashwin, Ojha, Jadeja were always better spinners than their counterparts. Now that the batting and bowling are accounted for, isn't it clear why India won and Australia lost? (I'm not including fielding and captaincy in this analysis, but they seem besides the point right now.)
But in winning four Tests, India did something else. They played a brand of cricket, especially in the first and third Tests, which showcased diligent attempts to seize the initiative and play themselves into a winning position. In the first Test, facing a first innings-total of 380, and with his own side's innings stumbling around at 372-7, the Indian captain smashed them to a match-winning lead of 192. Hopefully, he will continue to remember he bats better when he attacks. And in the third Test, India forced the pace thanks to the debutant Shikhar Dhawan, and created a win in four days. I picked a draw in that Test at the end of the third day, and continued to do as the familiar Indian bugbear of the inability to blow away the tail manifested itself. Heck, I stayed with my prediction of a draw as India chased, all the way down to the end.
So convinced was I that India lacked both the nous and desire to complete the chase. But they did it, and finally wrapped up as comprehensive a win as their fans could have wanted. As I said above, I am reluctant to draw too many conclusions about the future of Indian cricket based on one series win, at home, against a team undergoing a transition of its own. South Africa, at home, awaits. But the presence of young batsmen who show a hunger for runs, spinners who show aggression, and most importantly, a winning feeling whose memory will, hopefully, stick around and provide some wind beneath their sails in that land. On its pitches, against names like Steyn, Morkel and Philander, there is sufficient cause to hope that no more inversions of this present score lie around the corner.
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here