Then Gabba, now Lord’s, India grow indestructible by the day
At Lord's, India bowled out England for 120 runs in just 60 overs. Photo: Twitter

Then Gabba, now Lord’s, India grow indestructible by the day

Not without reason is it said that the seeds of success are sowed in the immediate aftermath of the most debilitating setback.

It took a soul-shattering defeat at the Queen’s Park Oval in 1976 when, with three specialist spinners, West Indies failed to defend upwards of 400 against India, for Clive Lloyd to arrive at the conclusion that he would henceforth use only pace as his preferred weapon of destruction. It was following that six-wicket loss in Port of Spain that the West Indian captain first invoked the four-pacer formula, which worked wonders for the Caribbeans for more than two decades until the assembly line of fast bowlers gradually started to dry up.

For Virat Kohli’s India, the ‘aha moment’ came in Galle in 2015. It was India’s first series since Kohli had been appointed full-time captain, and the visitors dominated for the first half of the first Test until a spectacular counterattack from Dinesh Chandimal redressed the balance somewhat. Even so, at the end of the third day, India needed 153 more runs for victory with nine wickets in hand, a target well within reach.

Also read: After Gavaskar, Tendulkar finds chink in Kohli’s batting armour

Instead of focusing on the process, India targeted the outcome. Things were taken so much for granted that little energy was trained on what the approach would be on day four, against Rangana Herath and Tharindu Kaushal on a well-worn, spin-friendly surface. Predictably, India came unstuck swiftly, caught betwixt and between and slipping into a morass of timidity and uncertainty to slump to an embarrassing 63-run pounding.

A deafening sound of silence descended upon the dressing-room for nearly two hours after the fall of the last wicket. Ravi Shastri, then the team director, finally roused himself into action, asking if that was the brand of cricket the team wanted to identify with. The answer was obvious, the ripost instantaneous. From limp and uninspired, India traversed the spectrum to bold and intrepid, occasionally bordering on the brazen. Outstanding all-round performances in the last two Tests carried them to a 2-1 series triumph, their first in the Emerald Isles since 1993. It was to be the start of a rip-roaring journey that has made them the most compelling, entertaining, eye-catching Test unit in world cricket.

Galle was to usher a paradigm shift in the Indian way of thinking. Conservatism was given the heave-ho, traditional thought processes jettisoned, and a very public horses-for-courses methodology took deep root. Unsurprisingly, it caused much consternation and tut-tutting. How could, the sceptics wondered, you change up winning combinations willy-nilly? Why would, they queried, you push your best performers to the brink of insecurity by the constant chopping and changing? Kohli didn’t pause to think, steeped in the conviction that the path he had embraced on the journey to raising India’s stock in Test cricket was the right one. Who’s to argue with his methods now?

India’s outstanding victory at Lord’s in the second Test is the latest chapter in a glittering array of cherished successes away from home. True, for all their aggression and chest-thumping, India have had only two meaningful overseas series wins in the last six years, both in Australia. There is, though, good reason to believe other lands aren’t too far away from being conquered. Unless India take their eyes off the ball, there will be a first Test series success in 14 years to savour in England in a month’s time. And, potentially, a first ever such accomplishment in South Africa later in the year.

It’s not that India didn’t have the skills, desire, ambition or resources in the past. It’s just they didn’t have all these traits in equal measure, or all at the same time. During the golden generation of Indian batting, the pace arsenal was stretched to the thin. When the fast-bowling unit began to take concrete shape towards the first half of the last decade, the stalwart batsmen had all bid adieu. Over the last three years or thereabouts, everything started to come together. India’s batting – now more under the microscope than their bowling, which is in itself a telling reality – has both experience and class, the pace attack has teeth, muscle, fire, nous and depth.

Gone are the days when Australia or South Africa could ply India with pacy, bouncy decks without the fear of retaliation. Gone too are the days when England or New Zealand could lay out green-tops, smug in the knowledge that retribution wouldn’t be forthcoming. India’s all-weather attack has forced oppositions to ponder long and hard over what pitches to provide because now, they could dish out as good as they got.

The Indian Premier League has played a humongous role in the banishment of stage-fright from emerging stars. Accorded the luxury of sharing dressing-rooms with superstars from around the world and performing under lights and pressure in front of packed houses night after night, these young guns are already exposed to the no-timidity atmosphere. When they break through into the national team, they are primed to buy into the established culture of aggression and positivity. They are insulated from fear of failure as much as they are from the fear of success. They are encouraged to snarl and growl if it helps them focus better, if it is not to their cricketing detriment. They draw reinforcement from reassertions that they are second to none, and therefore do not have to conduct themselves that way. You can argue with the methods, but you can’t with the outcomes, can you?

Also read: Why is Virat Kohli struggling with the bat? Here’s what Gavaskar has to say

That’s why you have a Mohammed Siraj, the least experienced of the pacers, effortlessly easing into the role of a spearhead. That’s why you have Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah, wannabe batsmen, stitch together India’s highest ninth-wicket partnership in England. That’s why you have the entire team coming down from the dressing-room to greet the two unbeaten heroes at lunch. And that’s why you have the confidence that 60 overs are more than sufficient to bowl England out even on a slow, benign surface.

Brisbane in January, London in August. Incredible pit-stops in what has already been a year of plenty. It’s impossible not to be excited by the possibilities that lie ahead of new-age India.

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