Legends Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman gave us twin overseas Test whitewashes on their way out. Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir faded away. Harbhajan Singh may have finally played his last Test.
So MS Dhoni had a big job to rebuild it for India in foreign Tests when these stalwarts left. You could say that he did a marginally better job. While those twin whitewashes meant a win-draw-loss ratio of 0-0-8, Dhoni achieved a ratio of 1-4-6 after that. Not that great, but better than before.
Still a tired and jaded Dhoni decided to call it a day probably feeling that he had nothing more to offer Test cricket. At times fresh blood can rebuild better than an old and tired mind and in stepped Virat Kohli. While most captains have had beginner’s luck in the past, that hasn’t been the case with Kohli.
In his first Test as captain at Adelaide, India posted a decent 444 to Australia’s 517. Then chasing 364, we were a strong 242-2 at one stage before we collapsed. Kohli hit twin centuries and it was a fighting defeat. In his second Test as captain in Sydney, Team India managed to eke out a draw. Kohli would have got his first Test victory in Bangladesh, but too much play was lost due to rain.
In the first Test at Galle, India had Sri Lanka on the mat at 60-5 but still they did a respectable 183. The second innings was even more abysmal. The Lankans were 95-5 and staring at innings defeat. Not only did they recover to a formidable 367, they beat us by 63 runs.
It was the same old story in foreign Tests where India had converted imminent victories to draws or losses. So when the Sri Lankans were 241-3 in reply to India’s 393 in the second Test at Colombo, one felt the game drifting away for the umpteenth time.
This time it was a great Indian fightback. India took 7 wickets for just 65 runs. Then the Indian batsmen played some hard-hitting shots and set an improbable victory target of 413 and we absolutely crushed our opposition by a whopping 278 runs.
It was a rare one-sided Test victory on foreign soil. So the question to be asked is has Team India turned it around in foreign Tests?
In Kohli we finally have an aggressive and talented captain. He scored 692 runs in the Australia series, a record for any Indian batsmen. He is under zero pressure leading his side. As Test captain Kohli has scored 657 runs at an average of 73 with four centuries.
While a lot of batsmen have scored Test centuries at home, this young team is doing the same abroad.
Murli Vijay has 146 (Nottingham), 144 (Brisbane), 99 (Adelaide), 97 (Durban), 95 (Lord’s), 82 (Colombo) and 80 (Sydney). Ajinkya Rahane has 147 (Melbourne), 126 (Colombo), 118 (Wellington), 103 (Lord’s), 96 (Durban), and 81 (Brisbane). Shikhar Dhawan has 134 (Galle), 115 (Auckland), 98 (Wellington) and 81 (Brisbane).
Newbie KL Rahul played a couple of Tests in Australia and has a century there and also a century in Sri Lanka.
This batting line-up can play on any ground in the world.
In bowling R Ashwin has 141 wickets in 27 Tests and more importantly picked up 12 wickets in the 3 Tests he played in Australia. Finally no matter how much you criticize Ishant Sharma, it is he who gives us our overseas victories.
In our last foreign Test series in West Indies in 2011, he was the man of the series. In our last Test win outside the sub-continent at Lord’s, it was Ishant’s aggression which saw us through. Even at Colombo, Ishant broke the century stand that started Lanka’s slide.
In fact right now our only weakness is the second and third pacer and that’s the only thing the BCCI has to concentrate on. The likes of Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami have to be groomed well and we have to look for even more pacers.
It is in this context that the third Test in Colombo is extremely important. A loss there would leave no hope for the Indian fan when it comes to foreign Tests. Even a draw would be a small step forward as we have lost six foreign Test series on the trot.
A series win would be historic. It would be our first abroad after four long years and the first in Sri Lanka in more than 20 years. That would give Kohli’s boys confidence to take on the might of the world.
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://www.sunilrajguru.com/