The likers and dislikers of Team India both clapped their hands in unison as the visitors stunned Australia in their own den for a historic 2-1 series win earlier this month.
It was indeed a great series win, probably India’s greatest in Test cricket to date. However, rhapsodies and eulogies need to stop as England touch down for a full series beginning with a four-match Test rubber early next month.
England are one of two teams – Australia being the other -- in this century that have beaten India in India in Test cricket and barring a 4-0 hiding they received the last time they were here for a five-game series in 2016-17, they have always been competitive. On the tour before in 2012-13, an Alistair Cook-led English team had stunned the Indians 2-1 in a four-match series. In 2008-09, India had won the two-game rubber 1-0 as the hosts chased down over 380 in Chennai weeks after the terror attack in Mumbai. In 2005-2006, the three-game series was tied at 1-1. In 2001-02, India had won the three-game rubber 1-0.
How comfortably they have beaten Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka and the form of Joe Root in those two Tests — a double century and almost another double century — suggest that the upcoming series won’t be an easy one for the hosts by any means. In the past foreign teams have struggled in India on rank-turners in hot and humid conditions but because of the participation of many England players in the Indian Premier League and their heightened familiarity with the conditions, India’s home advantage doesn’t count for much now. The pitches in India too have changed in the last few years and don’t offer spin from the get-go as they did before.
And this England team is heavily armed, probably one of the best to visit India in recent years. What particularly is alarming is the manner in which they have beaten Sri Lanka which has never been an easy place for touring sides. Their batting may look a little vulnerable at this point but their bowling more than makes up for that. And to make the point more pressing, they look blessed in both fast and spin departments. Look at the second Test against the Lankans, where fast bowlers took all 10 wickets in the first innings and spinners all 10 in the second – a first in Test cricket.
Test matches are won by bowlers and nobody knows it better than Indians who beat Australia largely piggybacking on their bowling. In James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer, England have very experienced and potent fast bowling options and off-spinner Dom Bess and left-arm spinner Jack Leach have shown in Sri Lanka they can use the spin-friendly tracks in the sub-continent to their advantage greatly.
So, there are reasons enough for India to put their head down and start anew after the heroic triumph in Australia. From the inaugural ICC World Test Championship point of view too, this series is very important and so the Indians – leaders in the standings as of now with 430 points -- should do everything in their capacity and and leave nothing to chance. To cement their place in the championship final -- scheduled for June 18 at the hallowed Lord’s -- they need to win by at least a two-match margin and that won’t be an easy task, be rest assured. India can’t afford to drop their guard and will have to maintain the same kind of intensity they showed in Australia to get a desired result. Any drop in intensity can turn the atmosphere from festive to grim, make no mistake.