They’ve broken down even the most cynical of us. Two months ago, many like yours truly scoffed at the conveniently long home season for the Indian test team – 13 test matches, a recipe to wrestle back a somewhat meaningless top ranking position. The series against an unprepared New Zealand team followed, with a whitewash, and the goal to be no. 1 had already been achieved. India was always a lion at home, and in this era of home dominance and away lamb-skewers, it was only a matter of time before a slightly crafty England team, who had been India’s bogey test team for the last decade, brought back the fans and administrators back down to earth. If nothing, even a draw would set tongues wagging, exposing the single-minded bloodiness of a young team that depended solely on the toss and the form of its two spinners.
On Monday morning in Mumbai, the venue at which India had lost its last two tests to England, one couldn’t help but wonder if it was simply “home advantage” in play anymore. After all, this English team was known to win tests away and hadn’t shied away from sub-continent pitches (except Abu Dhabi) often. But after 4 tests out of 5 in the series, India are now 3-0 up, winning back the trophy and somehow winning a lot of hearts in the process. This hasn’t been something as methodical and unfair as the pitches laid out for a hapless South African team last year. In fact, in Rajkot during the first test, India was in a position to be mocked for years to come – desperate to save a test against a team who would’ve stopped their dreamy juggernaut in a first real “contest” in ages. But a man named Virat Kohli, who had a lot of wrongs to right against this team, dug in and finished on 49 not out, saving his team the blushes. It was a tiny but crucial performance in the context of things to come.
And for once, we didn’t feel snarky to declare wholeheartedly India was now in possession of the best batsman and best bowler in cricket. Over the next three tests, Virat Kohli and Ravichandran Ashwin dispelled all doubts and performed on pitches that were true and offered enough assistance to an English team that failed to win the crucial moments. It had come down to spilled catches and a difference in skill – because India was on the ropes at least thrice, before the lower order came into play and rescued a team usually famed for its lower-order collapse and lack of resistance. As Kohli harped on later, “We are proud of our defence; it gives us more of a rush than looking for runs.” This was methodical, patient and so very confident – attributes you don’t usually associate with young Indian test sides.
In short, India did more than remain unbeaten for its 17th test in a row, and did more than win its 5th consecutive series. The Kohli-led team had now put it beyond discussion that even “home lions” have to be consistently skilful and dominant, in an era where Australia has been losing at home (to South Africa), South Africa has been defeated at home (by England), England have been held to a draw at home (by Pakistan), New Zealand has lost at home (to Australia) and even Pakistan has lost a test at home (to West Indies). India hasn’t lost a test on home soil since 2012 (to England), and they’re now doing it without the Shastri-controlled pitches and Dhoni-fuelled requests. They’re doing it with simple back-against-wall performances with players who’re willing to “wait” for their moments.
Here's a statistical look at the numbers after this test:
2 – number of times Kohli has now scored more than 600 in a test series. Only Rahul Dravid and Sunil Gavaskar has done it twice. Tendulkar had never done so.
1 – Kohli became the first-ever batsman to average more than 50 in all three formats of the game with his 235 at Mumbai.
2 – Only Michael Clarke has scored more test double centuries in a year (4 in 2012). Kohli is second with 3. Before 2016, Kohli had never scored a double. He also became the first to score three doubles in three consecutive test series (West Indies, New Zealand and England). Australia will be afraid.
24 – number of 5-wicket hauls for Ashwin in tests already, in 43 tests.
7 – number of 10-wicket hauls for Ashwin in test matches, second as an Indian only to Anil Kumble (8).
241 – the highest 9th-wicket partnership ever for India in tests, between Kohli and Jayant Yadav, who became the first Indian no. 9 to score a test century.
247 – number of wickets by R. Ashwin in his career so far, the highest ever after 43 tests.
41 – number of international centuries by Kohli in cricket so far (26 in ODIs, 15 in tests)
5 – number of times Ashwin has taken more than 20 wickets in a test series, four in the last three years alone.