No longer an aberration
A little over a year ago, on a snake-pit of a pitch at Sabina Park, with batsmen struggling to put bat to ball, India pulled off what appeared to be a great escape. It resulted in a series win, India's first in the Caribbean for 35 years. The dressing-room celebrations suggested pleasant shock, a match which India knew could have gone either way.
As much as the victory was celebrated, it also reinforced the point about India's over-reliance on Rahul Dravid, whose two mini-epics made the big difference. Most of their away wins this decade - like Headingley 2002, Adelaide 2003 and Rawalpindi 2004 - were Dravid inspired and none of the rest appeared to possess the same amount of steel when it came to playing abroad.
At Jamaica, as well as several instances later, Dravid has been asked if this was turning into a "one-man" team. On every occasion he denied he was the main member and added: "Everyone has contributed at some stage in the past and I'm sure they will do now." For a long time it appeared too modest even by Dravid's standards. It was getting quite obvious that there was only one member of the team capable of crisis management.
However, India's last two significant wins abroad, would have provided him with plenty of cheer. His own contribution, at both the Wanderers and here, have been minimal but India have pulled off comprehensive wins on both occasions. Improvement has been apparent: in Kingston they sneaked it through the back door, in Johannesburg they won owing to an outstanding spell of seam bowling, but here they've dominated nine out of the twelve sessions. Team efforts don't come any better.
Zaheer Khan's performance, as Dravid himself admitted, was undoubtedly the clincher. On the first afternoon, when provided with a good pitch to bowl on, he "stood up"; on the fourth afternoon, with the match in the balance, "he took the game by the scruff of the neck". "That's what good fast bowlers do, that's what good matchwinners do." But he wasn't without a bit of support: "RP Singh might not get the credit he deserves but his critical wickets in both innings made a big impact. And our openers responded and set the game up for the middle order."
|Over the years, India's foreign campaigns have always been associated with the phrase "If only". A bad session here, some bad luck there and all hope would come crashing down. This was almost a perfect Test - a crucial toss, bowler-friendly conditions on the first day and bright sunshine when they batted. It was similar to Headingley five years ago, overcoming the English in English conditions|
"At Headingley the onus was on the batsmen, here the bowlers responded when given the opportunity. Both wins need to be enjoyed. For us to come to England and beat them at home is as special as it would have been for them to beat us in Bombay [in the series decider last year].
Did he think the conditions favoured India more? "I've always felt we've done well when we've had the opportunity to take 20 wickets - we might lose the odd game but we also win games. I feel our best chance is when there's definitely going to be a result. Sometimes we're put on the back foot early on good pitches, when we struggle to take 20 wickets. Even last time at Headingley when we had a chance to take 20 wickets, we did. That gives us our best chance. Because all it then needs is one good batting performance to set up the game."
The celebrations in the balcony and dressing-room - where the players danced to bhangra - came with an air of the expected. It was almost a given that they would wrap it up today but Indian victories abroad don't come with the same shock as earlier. "I think expectations have increased over the last four or five years," said Dravid, "and people don't expect us to just come here and be part of the summer. People do expect us to come and perform and we expect ourselves to come here and perform. We don't come here just to be another team."
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo