Most thought India could go all the way. It was a 300-plus team with the bat. Bowlers left nothing standing on the table. Fielders looked good enough to get 10 run-outs.
Let’s pause. Isn’t this the same team which had lost in Tests and tri-series? Which had been on tour for almost half the year. Which was without its Test captain in first and last gambit. Which hardly had anyone with 50 Tests. Which wasn’t long in years. Which had scars of England. Which had blank pages for history. Which… never mind.
These were not two teams. One which lost everything. From one which won everything.
Their yardstick was different. They wanted to see the Australians in the eye. Not for once take a backward step.
Improve in skills. Get better in mind. Bond stronger every next day. They ended up ticking all these boxes. And that’s why the team which took the field in Sydney had your support.
You trusted them to defend the title. They trusted themselves. In my view, this tour to Australia was an unqualified success. I’m not biased; I would’ve said the same behind a microphone.
If India was bad, they wouldn’t have 400-plus in each of the four Tests. They would have looked to shut the shop in Adelaide rather than go for that 360-plus target. They would have buckled after hours in sun against a relentless team. In four back-to-back Tests inside a month. There are more instances of finding an all-white penguin in Antarctica than winning visitors in Australia. There is hardly a precedent; very few are around to tell the tale. It’s cricket’s Star-Trek: To go where no-one has gone before. The holy grail.
While you remember a Kohli for his four hundreds; Rahane for his silken touch; Vijay for his patience or KL Rahul for his steel, stats would never reflect the roots these young saplings of today have taken to become the banyan trees of tomorrow. They had seen seniors leave. They were asked to walk through the fire of four foreign tours in 2014. They are still on their feet. They are good enough to be around the next decade.
You don’t pick favourites in your family. Nor would I among these fresh yet tough kids. They were all under a banner. So was I. We wanted to turn the corner after England tour. We wanted to be sure the wheels hadn’t come off. To have millions rooting for you after those long months in Sydney was a vindication.
Personally, I was in the dressing room after two decades.
Yes the game has changed. But it still is a sport which men of flesh and blood play. Players still worry on their show. They still get the jet lag; they still are exhausted; everyday nets still don’t look an invitation to party. You fret how the world has viewed you today; how media has opined; what kind of fans would turn up at the hotel lobby after a first-ball duck; what’s the official engagement in every other city. Between airport to airport, hotel to hotel, ground to ground, nets to nets is the sameness which could engulf most but the toughest.
One still needs to be smart to fill up his free time.
I see some serious ambition in these young men. Money they have had aplenty. It’s the respect which moves them. They have areas to improve. All of us do. Some would’ve issues with off-stump; some with playing across the line; some with pull or some who plays too much in the air. Bowlers always want quality, discipline, fitness, new tricks by their side. These boys believe they could improve. And they would. These are strong shoulders India could rely on.
Further, there is clarity in leadership. This is vital.
Kohli starts his reign in Tests. Dhoni the Fox heads the ODI pack. One is not that new. The other is not that old. Ideas can be bounced around. Workload shared. Checklists compared.
Both share respect. None of them would look over their shoulder. None eyes other’s fruits. No contrary commands. No overlapping. The top six is the same in both formats. This is fluidity, stability. A Swiss watch with hundreds of inter-connected cogs and flywheels, working to perfection.
Father Time is never out of step. A good few years of harmony ahead.
These are sensible heads. They don’t grumble when moved up and down the order. No theatrics. Each standing for the other. Loudest at mate’s success. I was witness to it for a good length of time. It fills me up with hope. It’s a nice stew in the pot to take care of your appetite.