Team unity delivers glory to new India
The most delightful sight moments after India pulled off the historic draw at The Oval was the one of Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar locked in ecstatic embrace. On a patch of turf where India had pulled off their maiden Test victory in England, the trio, a holy trinity in India's batting echelons, were toasting a glorious series win, one built on the bedrock of team unity, partnerships and swing-bowling combinations. No one team member could lay claim to this series being theirs, it belonged to everyone.
Here was a captain supposed to be under scrutiny. Surrounding him were a couple of fading stars who ought to be riding into the sunset. Instead a team without a coach had found pockets of leadership. It was long felt Dravid suffered from not having a supportive vice-captain, but here he was being propped up by a couple of shrewd warhorses. India's series win was as much a tribute to the collective brains trust as it was to efforts with bat and ball.
India's manager, Chandu Borde, a butt of ridicule for his age, accent and manner of speaking, joined the celebrations. Here he was, all of 73 years, witnessing this side shred the form book. He is said to have suggested that Wasim Jaffer exercise with his skipping rope before walking out to bat, a technique to help improve footwork. Old school it might have been, but it worked. What this team lacked in modern coaching technique, it made up for in common sense.
None of India's batsmen made a big statement in the middle, yet everyone came with his own Gettysburg address. Dinesh Karthik isn't a classical opener - most expected him to fail - yet he showed how confidence could help overcome conditions. The hard work at the nets would have helped; the time spent sharing dinners with team-mates, especially those with a vast wealth of experience, were crucial.
|None of India's batsmen made a big statement in the middle, yet everyone came with his own Gettysburg address|
Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a young man with a cowboy's reputation. But his clear-headedness and ability to adapt have played a part. He had a torrid time behind the stumps, he had edgy phases with the bat yet, when he needed to adapt, he stood up. Watching him assault Monty Panesar at The Oval was special, seeing him knuckle down and craft an ugly 76 at Lord's more so. Memorably he smiled his way through it all.
It's been a series for fun. India took their cricket seriously, yet made sure they had their fun. Here was a bunch of senior pros mingling with young boys, a get together of uncles and high-schoolers. On the first day at Lord's, India's frontline bowlers are flayed to different corners. In walks Ganguly and strikes first. When India batted, RP Singh stuck it out as a nightwatchman. Anil Kumble's maiden Test hundred was simply the icing on the cake. Bits and pieces don't get better.
At Nottingham Zaheer Khan ran in as if his life depended on it. Jelly beans were only part of the story. Here was a fast bowler desperate to win India a Test. RP Singh didn't merely land up at Lord's, he went all the way to the honours board. Yes, the same lanky, nonchalant Rudra Pratap who usually picked up the second fiddle. Even on the last day of the series he was bouncing Kevin Pietersen, forcing him to weave out of the way. Is that you, RP?
Lost amid the intrigue surrounding India's coach, both the previous one and the unknown newcomer, buried under the wretched disappointment over the World Cup, blurred by the umpteen shenanigans of the Indian board, is the gradual re-evolution of India's Test side. A journey that threatened to reach a standstill in 2004, when India surrendered a series to Australia and went into an internal tailspin, appears to be back on track. Two big series, one at home against Pakistan and another away at Australia, beckon. In six months we'll know if they've learnt their lessons from three years ago. As of now, it's time for champagne.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo