Even from here Down Under, miles away from the Rose Bowl Cricket Ground, I could hear a big, collective sigh of relief as India avoided the proverbial banana peel against Afghanistan int he World Cup.
The historic nature of India’s 2-1 conquering of Australia in Australia cannot be understated.
If you have a vision, put a plan in place, are “obsessed” about achieving it and are not turned away by multiple failures, you will eventually find success.
By defeating Australia 2-1 in a historic first – away from home, on Australian shores – India helped bridge a gap between potential and reality. No Asian team had ever managed this feat before.
Beyond the runs and wickets taken, this victory was only possible due to India’s unflinching belief that irrespective of history, conditions or opinion going against them, they could still come out on top.
India had previously shown glimpses of hope in otherwise disappointing campaigns in South Africa and England through 2018.
The Australian series was their last opportunity at redemption and to prove to themselves that they could collectively achieve what they set out to do 12 months ago – win a Test series overseas.
The pressure, scrutiny and weight of expectation faced by India’s cricketers are unfathomable to anyone outside. A large degree of the battle is within for an Indian cricketer.
The trials they faced unflinchingly and admirably on venomous South African pitches and in seam-friendly conditions in England were part of the journey this team needed to experience and be better for.
And so when the series was finally sealed in Sydney against the most successful country in Test cricketing history, it was a euphoric moment – a moment so big that Ravi Shastri, the team coach, labelled this series win as being equal to or greater than India’s 1983 World Cup and 1985 World Championship victories, sides he was incidentally a part of.
While that is a matter of opinion, what Shastri knows only too well is that moments like these inspire a nation, gives it belief and creates the next generation of stars.
India are forever grateful that moments like these sparked the interest of a young Sachin Tendulkar to the game of cricket, with the rest being history.
“I think results like these are really important,” said Tendulkar after India secured the historic series win. “I still remember when I was ten years old, I didn’t know much about cricket. But I knew that India had won the World Cup (in 1983) and that is where my journey started.
“You need these kinds of results to inspire (the people) and make them believe.”
To put this series win in perspective we must look back on history for a moment to understand the significance and journey.
Barely months after India gained independence in 1947 the team travelled to Australia to take on Don Bradman and co. It was a convergence of two nations, worlds apart and from opposite hemispheres, distinct and different from each other in every way possible.
The results were telling. In 14 first-class matches played the Indians could muster only two victories and were thoroughly outclassed. Such was the superiority of the Australians that they won four of the five Tests, with Bradman finishing up with 715 runs, hitting four centuries in six innings.
While Bradman’s feats are a statistical outlier in cricket, what is evident is strong Australian sides in the past have always had multiple batsmen that knew how to score big. On that tour there were four other centurions for Australia.
In the recently concluded series Australia could manage none, thus stooping down to a 100-year low for a Test series involving more than two matches. Not one Australian batsman averaged over 40, yet four did for India. This was a telling difference between the two sides.
To rub more salt to the wounds, Cheteshwar Pujara scored 26 more runs than Australia’s two highest run scorers Marcus Harris (258) and Travis Head (237) combined.
Australian legend Dean Jones, ahead of this series and way back in November, predicted a 2-0 or 3-0 scoreline to India, proclaiming “India are miles better than Australia in all formats,” outlining his concerns about a batting line-up lacking class, a team in the midst of a leadership crisis and a series in which the bowlers would be severely tested.
He was right on all fronts.
All year long in away conditions the Indian bowlers had bowled opposition sides out, so it was no surprise they continued that trend in Australia, especially up against a historically weak batting line-up.
The Australians didn’t attack the stumps enough, as the lone LBW dismissal for the whole series illustrates. And they were also made to work significantly harder for their wickets – they had to bowl more deliveries but took fewer wickets than their Indian counterparts.
That the Australian bowlers were rendered largely ineffective speaks volumes of the strides this Indian side has taken in recent months.
However, it is what goes on behind the scenes that is often missed. India are the only team in the world to have a dedicated throw-down specialist, a cricket-mad youngster called ‘Raghu’.
The value of Raghu, the team’s throw down specialist who rose from humble backgrounds and smiles each time he makes batsmen duck or beats their edge, is invaluable.
Kohli speaks highly of him, as do the rest of the team. What Raghu may not realise is that he has been one of the unsung heroes behind India’s batting exploits here.
Through the 1900s India always lost more matches than they won, and considerably so. A draw was seen as a victory by fans. Wins overseas, let alone series triumphs, were few and far between.
But this Indian side, buoyed by the leadership of Virat Kohli, is different. They want to set new standards and are not satisfied by solitary wins overseas. They embrace challenges as opposed to running away from them.
The captain’s mantra was simple to his teammates. Trust the process, work smart, keep believing and show faith. The message was clear: by following this path and being patient, success was inevitable.
This is a team determined to redefine the history of Indian cricket, but that also requires an appreciation of the journey thus far. And so this is as much a victory for the Lala Amarnaths, the Vijay Merchants, the Sunil Gavaskars, the Kapil Devs and the Sachin Tendulkars.
This is a victory for the people of India and its vibrant supporters like the tricolour painted Sudhir Kumar and the thousands of people that filled up stadiums in Australia with their flags and chants.
This was not a journey that started 12 months ago; it is the collective result of years of heartbreak, pain, missed opportunities and hope.
India’s cricketers may today be worth millions, but they are fast learning to take ego out of the equation. Pujara played out 53 dot balls in a Test match in South Africa before scoring a run.
Kohli curbed his aggression in England and offered this honest advice to the Australians: “If you go out there with an ego, you might as well not go out at all,” he said. “Because that Dukes ball, it buries egos pretty quickly.”
Prominent cricket writer and historian Boria Majumdar summed up Virat Kohli best, describing him as “a passionate robot with a single-minded determination.”
He is an individual that is fuelled strongly by a determination to win for his nation.
Kohli will continue to polarise opinions, but he undeniably gives this Indian team results as a batsman and as a captain. The energy, passion and single-minded focus Kohli brings to the game has rubbed off on all around him.
With a home series in 2019, India in all probability will maintain their No.1 Test ranking. No one can dispute Virat Kohli is a winner.
But a far greater achievement is that this side is now believing in themselves and their capabilities.
A series win overseas is no longer impossible for this team.
Ravi Shastri summed up the team’s mindset with typical flair.
“This is not a team of gods or demigods, seniors or juniors,” he said. “This is an Indian cricket team that will jump over a cliff to win a match for the country.
“And that’s the determination, that’s the ruthlessness, that’s the mindset with which this team went to play in this series. And hats off to them to show that courage.”
And so India did eventually find success. What we have witnessed could well be an epochal and landmark moment in the history of Indian cricket.
This is a team that very much believes they can achieve great things.
And who knows – the next Virat Kohli may already be in the making!