After India lost The Oval Test of 2014 inside three days, thus losing the series 3-1 after leading, MS Dhoni came out armed with the number of caps in his side as against those in England's. Dhoni asked for time for a young Indian side, some of whom had started playing only when India started their 13 straight overseas Tests, beginning with South Africa in 2013-14.
Later this year, or early next year, India will start a similar journey, but things will be different this time. Virat Kohli has played 58 Tests, M Vijay reached 50 Tests during India's last home season, the last Test in Galle was R Ashwin's 50th, and now the SSC Test will be Cheteshwar Pujara's 50th.
Unless there is an injury, Ajinkya Rahane will go to South Africa with 43 Tests under his belt. The bowlers will all be on at least their second trip to those countries. Add to it the most experienced member of the side, Ishant Sharma. Three days from starting the SSC Test, Pujara said this was a great sign for the team hoping to set the record in the four difficult countries right: South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand.
"It will make a big difference because as a team you want players who are experienced enough," Pujara said of the collective experience in the side. "When we first toured South Africa, New Zealand and England, we were a young team, we didn't know what to expect from the opposition and sometimes we also didn't know what were our strengths in such conditions. But now when we go back there again, we will have a clear game plan. Our bowlers will know which areas to bowl and even as a batting unit, we will be very confident and clear with our game plans. I think having that experience of playing more Test matches will help us."
An example of this could be how Pujara himself was a different batsman on his second trip to South Africa. On his first trip there, soon after his debut in 2010, Pujara fought hard but had only 31 runs in three innings to show for it. On his second trip, in 2013-14, Pujara scored a century in Johannesburg.
"My first away tour, after making my debut, in 2011 when we went to South Africa facing Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel was the toughest part of my career. And I learnt and when I went there again in 2013, it was a different ball-game all together but yes 2011 was tough."
Being around experienced cricketers helped him. "Well I told myself that I have to work hard on my game especially if I want to play at the international level against world-class bowlers in different conditions," Pujara said of that series. "After that I really worked hard on my game, starting in 2011 and I got results in 2012 and 2013. I was looking at players like Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Sachin paaji [Tendulkar], all of them got runs in that tour, in some innings and I was just trying to notice what are the things that they are trying to do and I had a chat with them and I did try implementing a few things in nets, which did help me later on."
The other thing Pujara has learnt, perhaps with experience, is not to take too much pressure of past failures, such as the previous England tour, which began a string of low scores for him. "I would definitely like to score runs but there won't be any pressure this time as I have played some county cricket," Pujara said. "Playing in England will always be challenging, the wickets are bowler-friendly but I would definitely like to score some runs. But I wouldn't think that far ahead because we have a tour of South Africa first after this series, the next away tour is South Africa and I would like to prepare for that."
And, of course, revel in playing his 50th Test. "Playing the 50th Test match for the country, it will be a proud moment for me," Pujara said. "When I started playing cricket, I thought that Test cricket is always something that I wanted to play. When I have an opportunity to represent the country for the 50th Test match, it will be a proud moment. The way things have shaped up so far, the career has been really good. There have been ups and downs, but looking at the recent form, I will be looking forward to play in the 50th Test match and score some runs for the team."