The last ten years of test cricket for India can largely be seen as a full circle. It began with India on top of the world, literally, in 2010, as the World no. 1 ranked Test team before they won the ODI World Cup in 2011. It all came crashing down in the few years that followed, with whitewashes in Australia and England, a home Test defeat to England too, and senior players of the “golden generation” retiring in quick succession. 2014 was arguably the beginning of the Kohli era, with MS Dhoni retiring from Test matches and Kohli applying his firebrand batting attitude to his leadership of a fearless young team. The climb has been steep and slow, but India ends the decade as the top-ranked nation. The fall and rise of the Indian Test cricket team has been fascinating to watch in this decade.
On the eve of India’s first pink-ball Test match (in Kolkata) this week, let’s take a look at five of the greatest Test matches featuring Team India in this decade:
India v/s Australia (2010, Punjab)
It may seem like eons ago, but it was only 9 years ago. Back when everyone – Tendulkar, Dravid, Sehwag, Gambhir, and Laxman – was in peak form. But this first Test match of the 2-test series against the mighty Australians at home was a match that pretty much changed the narrative of cricket for India at the start of an action-packed decade. A defeat could have changed everything. Funnily enough, Australia is the only team to have consistently challenged India in India in the last ten years. Who can forget VVS Laxman losing his cool with Pragyan Ojha, or Ishant Sharma gritting it out with Laxman for a superb 9th-wicket partnership while chasing 216 on the fifth day? India won by 1 wicket, with Ojha holding on for 10 balls while Laxman played arguably his finest fourth-innings masterpiece with a 73 when everyone else fell around him. India went 1-0 up in the series and won the next match too.
India v/s West Indies (2011, Mumbai)
It’s hard to sympathize with a Test team that chooses to go for a draw in the final over instead of going for a win. Yet, a wounded India – after a bruising tour of England – was so low in confidence that the team made the baffling decision of being safe at the Wankhede on a crazy fifth day. Chasing 243, India needed 1 run with 2 wickets in hand and 2 balls left in the match. R Ashwin chose to play it out before getting run out on the last ball – leaving the crowd, including yours truly, in a state of bafflement. Everyone assumed it was a rare “tie,” but given that India hadn’t lost all its wickets, it was declared a stalemate. The most exciting and confusing stalemate of the decade. After all the work, all the good batting, Ashwin chose to…defend.
India v/s Australia (2014, Adelaide)
The brat-pack era begins. MS Dhoni, regular captain of Team India, didn’t play the first Test of the 4-match Border-Gavaskar trophy down under. This was India’s return three years after the 4-0 drubbing. Young Virat Kohli took charge at Adelaide, in a match that gave Indian fans a taste of what they were missing out on during the twilight years of Dhoni’s leadership. It was to be Dhoni’s last Test series; he might have noticed how Kohli’s fearless attitude propelled the team and fans alike. Chasing an unthinkable 364 in the fourth innings after an Australia declaration, India actually went for it. Correction: Kohli alone went for it. His 141 was stunning and scary, and frightened the home team – India were 242/2 at one point with Vijay at the other end – before Nathan Lyon triggered the collapse. Kohli was the tragic hero, but this was the kind of defeat that fans didn’t mind. Aggressive, die-hard and optimistic. India fell short by 48 runs, but it signaled the beginning of a new time.
India v/s Australia (2018, Adelaide)
The Pujara Test. Four years later, Kohli was back as a permanent captain down under. This time, however, it was no. 3 Cheteshwar Pujara who used the series as a statement. The first Test saw shaky batting from both teams, but Pujara stood tall with a century and a fifty, leaving Australia 323 to get in the fourth innings. At 187/7, it looked over. But an impressive rare-guard – combined with India’s usual inability to finish off tail-enders – saw Cummins, Starc, Lyon and Hazelwood hang on and take Australia to within 32 runs of the huge target. Finally, they were dismissed for 292, giving India a hard-fought victory that was in the making for four long years.
India v/s England (2014, Lord’s)
Kohli’s horror series. But before India lost three matches of this series, they shocked the hosts with a stunning win at Lord’s in the first match. A masterful Ajinkya Rahane century, a 6-for by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, a fifty by him and Jadeja later in the second innings and then the icing on the cake – a 7-for by Ishant Sharma, who “bounced out” the English team on instructions of captain MS Dhoni. The English batsmen underestimated the lanky bowler, and they repeatedly hooked and pulled him, falling to top edges and misjudged fields while chasing 319. Sharma took out the entire middle order, and gave India a famous win that was the calm before the storm hit. India lost 3-1 eventually, but it was a brief moment of sunlight on yet another doomed tour.