Indian Test Cricket enters 2022 as the best unit in the format.
After ending 2021 on a high, as it’s best year till date.
The deliveries from Shami & Bumrah that clipped the leg bail and off bail to dismiss Petersen and van der Dussen were the moments of the Centurion Test match for me; perhaps it pretty much symbolized & summed up the resurgence of Indian Test cricket in 2021, the best year in the nation’s Test cricketing history.
1968, ‘71, ‘76, ‘86, 2002, ‘04, ‘06, ‘10 were all important milestones & stepping stones but its in 2020–2021 that this unit has won 5 overseas Test matches (out of 56 till date in it’s history) and in unfamiliar, pacy conditions across Australia, England and now South Africa ~ and mind you, all of these wins came whilst living the mentally & physically exhausting ‘bubble life’.
The 2021 report card shows that Team India has won 4–1 each in both home and away matches, a healthy balance unlike most years and unlike most Test playing nations:
Growing up & following cricket for the last 3 decades, one was used to 4 fundamental tenets: the domination of Indian batsmen & spinners at home; an unique term called “fast medium” when it came to our pace bowlers; batting woes against pace in overseas conditions & subsequent series whitewashed, and celebrating draw as a good outcome in away matches.
Even the Fab5 of Class of 2001, which was blessed with arguably the best 5 batsmen that played all together in a team, managed to beat tough opponents like England & New Zealand only once each their respective homes and at best drew a series each against Australia and South Africa over a decade.
But Kohli & his men have beaten Australia at home twice now; are 2–1 up against England and have won the series opener against South Africa at Centurion, a fortress that India had struggled to penetrate, till yesterday.
The big difference in the last decade, especially in the last 5 years has been another batch of Fab 5 ~ our battery of pacers, genuine pacers,
who weren’t willing to settle for “medium” in any which way. M/s Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah & Mohammed Siraj have been gamechangers & series winners with their relentless, accurate, incisive seam and swing.
Between 2008–2012, Indian bowlers had conceded 382 runs per 10 wickets; this number came down to 295 between 2013–2017 and in the last 4 years till date, it is down to 238, the lowest amongst current playing nations and the lowest since 1892. The mighty West Indies circa 83–87 & the dominating Australians circa 98–02 had equivalent numbers of 256 and 268 respectively.
That’s how incredibly powerful & impactful Indian bowling has been in the last 5 years.
As Sir Andy Roberts recently commented that “If you want to dominate as a Test team, you need to have very good fast bowlers, especially overseas”
That is why under Kohli, India has managed to bowl out oppositions under 200 for 50 times, the highest for any captain.
That is why Kohli has won 40 out of the 67 Tests he has captained and has a very decent chance of getting past Steve Waugh (41), Ricky Ponting (48) & Graeme Smith (53), who are currently ahead of him, all of whom have been blessed with exemplary fast bowlers during their tenure.
The three key architects of this pace army have been Ishant, Shami & recently Bumrah, who arguably is the best fast & the most unique fast bowler the country has seen.
In his first 7 years, Ishant had taken 87 wickets in away matches and his average was scattered inconsistently between 32.65 to 120; in his last 7 years, he has taken 117 wickets overseas at an average between 12.27 to 34.8
Shami debuted in 2013 and reached 200 wickets under 10,000 balls, the fastest for an Indian bowler. 137 off his 203 wickets have come overseas at less than 30 runs per wicket, including two 5-fers each in Australia and South Africa.
Jasprit has been the fastest to breach 100 Test wickets as an Indian bowler ~ a feat he achieved in 23 matches since his debut series in 2018. His specialty has been his yorkers and he has scalped 6 batsmen with them, the most by any Test bowler in the world.
And it’s not just the yorkers that have produced the magic but he has also setup batsmen with his inswingers (remember Keaton Jennings lbw Bumrah for a duck in Southampton?) and also his slow offcutters (the delivery that ended Ollie Robinson’s 35 ball resistance at Lord’s and paved the way for Siraj to clean up the rest to help India win the series opener).
He is young, he is unique, he is quick and he is lethal. To take 102 out of his career tally of 106 in overseas conditions, at an average of 21.04, with two 5-fers in England & West Indies respectively and one each in Australia and South Africa is world class.
And whilst the pacers have made hay, let’s not forget that since 2010, our ace spinners, Ashwin and Jadeja, have picked 125 and 69 wickets respectively, on overseas tours at a decent average of 31 and 33 respectively.
But what is equally important is that these two gentlemen average 25 and 30 with the bat in away matches during this period and such contributions have been a hallmark of India’s batting in the recent past and have allowed the team to go in with 5 bowlers in most occasions.
I must say that in the last few years, I am more excited when India bowls than when they bat, unlike during my childhood.
Whilst Kohli, Pujara and Rahane have decent overseas tours with averages of 42.88, 36.49 and 41.51 respectively over the last decade, Rohit Sharma and KLRahul have been massive revelations in 2021 and make for complementary opening pair. Rahul has scored 6 out of his 7 centuries overseas and Rohit has scored the highest aggregated runs for the team this year.
What has been most monumental though are the crucial 30s, 40s or 50s scored by the Pant, Jadeja, Ashwin, Thakur, Sundar and even Shami & Bumrah. It isn’t fair to call our bottom half tail-enders anymore. They practice hard in the nets and have applied themselves, patiently taken body blows to resist and not give up and delivered when the top order had failed, put a price on their wicket and made it count when it mattered.
The 11 wins in ‘SENA’ countries since 2010 have been such a delight and treat to watch and experience, especially for the generation that used to celebrate a draw. Most of them have been team performances and many of them have been substantial wins with huge margins ~ some by an innings even.
Durban, Lords, Johannesburg, Nottingham, Melbourne, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Lords, Oval and now Centurion.
Kudos to Kohli, Shastri, Sridhar, Bharat Arun & the entire support structure that has made this dream run possible.
Hope the team savours this moment and celebrates hard but as we enter 2022, am hoping that under the tutelage of Rahul Dravid, who knows a thing or two of scoring centuries and captaining his side to Test wins in South Africa, Kohli will benefit from his wisdom, get back to scoring tons and lead our men
to add Jo’burg, Cape Town and Edgbaston to the above lists of cricketing fortresses to conquer.
Long live, Test cricket!