Yes we’ve been here before. The India cricket team win a game convincingly at home and suddenly everyone is comparing them to the great sides of yesteryear. But this time it’s beginning to feel different. This time I really am starting to look at their team sheet with envy. And this time I’m struggling to simply shrug my shoulders and predict it will all go wrong on their next tour outside of Asia.
India have been ruthless in their current series against South Africa. They won the first test convincingly and the second was so one-sided that a boxing referee might have called it off long before the end. The Proteas were on the ropes from the start and Virat Kohli’s team showed absolutely no mercy – which is exactly how it should be.
Although I feel for a South African team weakened by politics and the defection of several leading players to county cricket – how Faf Du Plessis could have used Simon Harmer in this series – it was hard not to admire India’s skill and intensity. And I say that as a purist too.
I love the look of India’s team on paper these days. With Rohit Sharma forming a formidable opening partnership with Mayank Agarwal, who looks like one hell of a find, it’s hard to find any weaknesses in Kohli’s team. One might argue that Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma aren’t the most consistent performers (especially overseas) but the quality of Mohammad Shami, Ravi Ashwin, and Ravi Jadeja is indisputable. And their batting is as silky and delectable as Wriddhiman Saha’s keeping.
In previous eras the knock on India was that they were very good at home, mainly thanks to their canny spinners, but were perennially vulnerable overseas. Virat Kohli’s team has been changing this perception. They’re still better at home than they are overseas, but to call them vulnerable outside of India no longer holds water – they won their last two series away 2-1 in Australia and 2-0 in the West Indies. Compare those results to England’s recent experiences down under and in the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, while other teams have had their recent struggles at home, the India cricket team have just won their eleventh consecutive series. It’s getting pretty hard to bowl them out once let alone beat them outright. South Africa have some good bowlers in Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Keshav Maharaj, but thus far they’ve been plundered for 502-7 dec, 323-4 dec, and now 601-5 dec in their last three innings. India aren’t just very good at home; they’re absolutely brilliant. South Africa will have to play out of their skins to avoid a 0-3 whitewash at the next test in Ranchi which begins on Saturday.
So what makes India so good? Personally I’d argue it’s because they have several proper red ball cricketers – which isn’t something that can be said of many modern international sides. Although Rohit and Agarwal, who now averages a whopping 60 with two centuries and three fifties in his first six tests, might be better known for their white ball exploits (Agarwar initially started life as a limited overs specialist despite his stellar first class average), all their batsmen have impeccable red ball records:
Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli are world class batsmen with both the talent and temperament to post huge scores in all conditions. They both average an astonishing 60 at home in test cricket over a large sample size. Meanwhile, Ajinkya Rahane also has a fine red ball record. In fact, he’s unusual for modern test match batsmen in that he actually averages considerably more away from home (47) than he does at home (35).
India’s spinners are also breaking the mould somewhat. It’s a fallacy that Ashwin and Jadeja are only effective in India. Whilst it’s true that they’re more effective in home conditions – they average 23 and 20 at home respectively – but they’re still good bowlers when they leave Indian shores. Ashwin averages 31, which is very respectable for a spinner, and Jadeja 35.
The biggest challenge for the India cricket team moving forward might be whether they can ultimately replace Sharma and Yadav with younger and more consistent fast bowlers. The former has his moments, and had actually bowled very well over the last couple of years, but now that he’s the wrong side of 30 years old I doubt he’ll ever be the superstar he once promised to be. Meanwhile, although I like Yadav’s pace and skiddy trajectory, and his record at home is very impressive, his career statistics overseas is below adequate.
As an Englishman, I’ve often wondered why Bhuvneshwar Kumar gets overlooked in test cricket. He has a better record than either Ishant or Umesh, and he’s a couple of years younger too. Although he was struggled with injuries I’m surprised that Ravi Shastri sees him purely as a white ball specialist at the current time. It will be interesting to see if he can change perceptions or whether the emerging Navdeep Saini, who is quicker than Kumar, will overtake him permanently.
The star of the attack however, and perhaps the single biggest reason why this era in India cricket feels different, is obviously Yasprit Bumrah. All world class sides need a bowler with pace, and Bumrah provides this in spades. With a test average of 19 in his first 12 tests, one expects Bumrah to climb the world rankings steadily until he reaches the very top. The fact that he’s third already, despite never playing a test at home, is pretty remarkable.
If he Bumrah can recover fully from the stress fracture that’s keeping him out of the South Africa series, and can stay injury free moving forwards, then he has the opportunity to become one of India’s best ever fast bowlers. Although they’ve produced quality seamers before, like Kapil Dev and one of my personal favourites Javagal Srinath, there’s something unique about Bumrah which we haven’t seen in an Indian team for some time. He’s burly, a little unorthodox, and great to watch. His battle for top spot in the rankings with Rabada and Jofra Archer over the comings years should be an interesting subplot to keep an eye on.
For many years the India cricket team were a side with huge latent potential. Now it looks like they’re finally beginning to harness their massive population of 1.4 billion people. Yes there is still work to be done, but with reports of improving facilities and increased professionalism, one wonders if this is the start of a long period international dominance.
There may only be one Virat Kohli and one Jasprit Bumrah at the moment, but in ten years’ time India’s team could consist of eleven equally talented players. It’s quite a scary prospect really. And there’s not a fat lot anyone can do to stop them.
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