The pitch on this occasion was blameless. A beleaguered England were pummelled in the series finale fourth Test on Saturday by home strong India in just three days.
India’s 3-1 series victory seals their berth in the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) final, where they will meet New Zealand in June at Lord’s. After a surprising first Test defeat against a confident England fresh off a romp in Sri Lanka, India turned it around with comprehensive victories in the next two Tests albeit controversially due to rank turning pitches that heavily favoured them.
Perhaps a battered England’s confidence was already shot, but India proved they were a class above at home with an innings and 25 runs thrashing in Ahmedabad to win their 13th straight home series stretching eight years.
It’s hard to see anyone beating them at home. Much like four years ago against Australia, India were stunned in the series opener before wearing down their opponents in unforgiving conditions for tourists.
Playing India on their terrain has become simply the toughest challenge in Test cricket. Once travelling to the Caribbean was an impossible task with the West Indies undefeated for 22 years then Down Under became a graveyard site for tourists with Australia unblemished from 1993-2008.
Those two teams are clearly the measuring stick for Test greatness over the last 50 years. Can India join them? The signs are looking rather ominous for the rest of the cricket world. India’s momentous series victory in Australia in January will perhaps be remembered as their harbinger moment.
India’s dominance of world cricket has felt inevitable given their sheer population, fanaticism to the sport and its governing body’s deep pockets and undeniable influence. Even though they have won ODI and T20 World Cups, India has never dominated Test cricket because they’ve struggled abroad, particularly in Australia and England.
This current India team, however, is building something formidable. The batting has become less reliant on talisman Virat Kohli – who didn’t even play the bulk of the Australia series – and developed a strong backbone down the order to frustrate opponents reminiscent of those mighty Australia teams.
Rishabh Pant, man-of-the match in the fourth Test for another audacious, game-changing century, is simply Adam Gilchrist 2.0. He’s changed the course of matches multiple times in just the past couple of months, but he has the extra safety valve knowing there is assistance beneath him. No longer do India fall away with the tail with Ravichandran Ashwin and breakout stars Washington Sundar and Axar Patel extremely capable at the crease.
India actually looked in trouble in the fourth Test with their wobbly top order struggling before the now familiar rescue act from Pant et al. Sundar agonizingly missed out on a maiden ton finishing 96 not out after sharing in a century stand with Patel.
There is scary depth now in India’s batting, which allowed them to paper over the sub-par performances batting stars of Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahanae.
Left-armer Patel was mesmerizing with the ball as he and Ashwin snared all of England’s second innings wickets through masterful spin bowling, which deceived the ashen-faced batters through canniness and supreme skill rather than overt assistance from the pitch.
They were barely needed in these conditions, but India has a battery of high-quality quicks to ensure they should be extremely competitive overseas – as they showed in Australia.
It’s a pivotal year for India’s bid for Test supremacy. Things have started extremely promising for Kohli’s men – and make no doubt India’s captain is revving his charges knowing he has the chance to add an extra sheen to his legacy – but there is still work ahead.
India faces New Zealand for the fight of the first ever WTC crown. This convoluted championship – designed to rejuvenate the slumping Test format – is hardly an egalitarian system. For example, bitter rivals India and Pakistan can never play each other – except in a final – due to political squabbles. And the Covid-19 pandemic meant a truncated WTC, yet the two best teams are probably there and deserve their place.
India will be challenged in seaming conditions and were famously bundled out of the 2019 World Cup semi-finals by the plucky Kiwis. New Zealand also easily beat India at home 12 months ago, so the WTC final is probably an even money bet.
India will then play five Tests against England in the U.K. – a site of humiliation for them having lost seven of 10 tests in 2014 and 2018. If India really want to be an all-time great team, they need to end their U.K. hex and beat this flawed England team.
England’s bid for a truly memorable Test upset fell apart after such a bright start but to even win one match in India is probably a decent result for them. Their much-critiqued rotation policy will be further under the microscope and they seemingly erred at the selection table. But like all challenges since Andrew Strauss’ famed team in 2012-13 – a series triumph that continues to grow in mystique – India simply had all the answers at home.
It’s easy to cast ahead and envision India dominating the decade much like West Indies in the ‘80s and 2000s Australia.
But before we start getting into big picture narratives, India will have to twice take care of business in the U.K.