| Nagpur |
Published:September 30, 2017 1:33 am
One player playing as two; two cricketers playing as one; a couple of mercurial teams waking up on the right side; and the most prolific ODI batsman of the last three years stepping up to celebrate a personal landmark. The common thread that binds them is that all these efforts — individual and combined — resulted in an Indian defeat in 2017.
Of those five losses, Ben Stokes’s all-round performance at Eden Gardens in January, Kusal Mendis and Danushka Gunalathika’s 159-run stand at the Oval in June and David Warner’s 124 in his 100th ODI at the Chinnaswamy Stadium the other day came in inconsequential matches — India had either already won the bilateral series or advanced to the next round. A lone jarring note was the defeat against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final.
These results — inconsequential or otherwise — stand out because the commodity called ‘Indian defeat’ in the One-day format has become rarer than it has ever been since that July day in Leeds 43 years ago when they first played, and promptly lost, a limited-over international match.
For the last straight 11 calendar years, including 2017, India have been winning more than they have been losing. This year, they have taken it to another level. Of the 22 matches that India have played so far, they have tasted victory on 16 occasions. One match was abandoned.
It’s a win/loss ratio of 3:2 — the best India have registered so far in a calendar year. Consequently, the victories have become a blur, almost indistinguishable from each other and punctuated, increasingly infrequently, by a happenstance of opposition’s brilliance, a rare off day for Virat Kohli & Co, and match relevance (whether India preferred experiment over result, as they did in Bangalore).
Even on Thursday at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, as their team chased a steep 335, most Indian fans — a comfortable majority of them millennials and post millennials — didn’t think it was over till MS Dhoni dragged one onto his stumps to leave the tail with 34 to get in 13 balls. Till then, they were not hoping for a miracle, merely expecting what has become quotidian. They lamented India not making it 10 wins in a row for the first time in their ODI history, but not too much because they know it will happen sometime in the near future.
For a previous generation, the children of the 80s and early 90s, who grew up with their fingers permanently entwined, it’s an unfamiliar territory to be in. They have grown up hoping against hope for the best, while preparing for the worst. Certainly against the dreaded men from Down Under. Now, the roles have reversed, and how. In Bangalore, India’s winning streak was snapped by Australia, who were on an 11-match overseas losing streak. One actually needs to pinch oneself to realise it’s not a lucid dream of a summer afternoon.
It could be argued that India had already buried the ghost of Australia. The 2013 4-0 Test series win followed by another at home earlier this year could be considered compelling cases in point. But the Test victories, savoury as they are, don’t cut it. Much of Australia’s aura, whose vestigial remains still exist in the minds of many of us, was built on their ODI exploits. Against the Kangaroos, we always discovered our inner mongrel in Test cricket, as India’s record suggests: seven wins against 10 losses between 1998 to 2008, the high noon of Australian cricket. It was the ODI format really that got our goat: we lost nearly three times as many matches as we won against Australia in the same period. Not to mention the heavy big tournament hidings, which came like a recurring nightmare.
Sweet and strange
To see the Men in Blue turn the tables on the bete noires — though, admittedly, not to that extent as they have received in the past — is, therefore, at once sweet and strange. It also tempts one to compare this team with Steve Waugh’s—and later Ricky Ponting’s —winning machine. Certainly, as the numbers show, the results have begun to stack up. The talent is there in abundance — KL Rahul doesn’t find a place in the XI; Ajinkya Rahane is a back-up opener; Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav are struggling to get game time; and Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja not even there in the team. Then, there is this sheer self-belief and swagger, starting from top, the captain, and percolating all the way down to the bottom. Virat Kohli has done to the Indian team what Steve Waugh did to Australia. Justin Langer once said for Waugh, he would even run through a wall. You feel the same vibes emanating from Kohli’s men.
Man for man, there may be few in this Indian team who could stand toe-to-toe to Waugh’s mavericks. For that was an astounding coming together of once-in-several-generations players, but this Indian team certainly is far more than the sum of its parts. In doing so, at the moment, they are more in the mould of Hansie Cronje’s South Africa of late 90s than the Australia of early 2000s . And they appear to have only just begun. The fundamentals are in place. India have the makings of a blue chip stock 20 months from now in England.