At the beginning of the season he was busy keeping the England bowlers out to stave off possible defeat. At the end of this longish home season of 13 Tests – the first after 1980-81 – he had been rendered hors de combat and was reduced to carrying the drinks. But all the series and the 13 Tests was about Virat Kohli. It least matters whether you call him Donald Trump or Australia’s worst frenemy, what Kohli did was achieve his aims for Team India in a long and most productive home season of 10 Test wins (Ajinkya Rahane leading in the 10th) to one defeat.
For sheer sustained team effort, this was India’s finest. There may be a few who put effectiveness over style at the batting crease, but that too was a reflection of a collective psyche to overcome every hazard and come out victorious. The pace bowlers huffed and puffed while putting up with spinner-like workloads. The two spinners were the major all-rounders of the series with Ravindra Jadeja tending to even eclipse his senior partner Ravichandran Ashwin when the latter’s arm seemed ready to fall off his shoulder after bowling a mind numbing number of overs.
At least two of the top three Indian batsmen were at times guilty of making Test cricket a dreary spectacle, but they undertook the hard grind to rub the opposition into the ground and still left enough time on the rough pitches for the bowlers to finish the job. Kohli’s brilliance carried the batting in the first part of the season and although he faded out against the Aussies there were many prepared to step into his shoes and see to this job of making Test runs. The number of occasions on which they came through with discipline against Australia was symbolic of the collective Kohli team resolve. Everyone chipped in and Jadeja blossomed in the late order to give India true depth.
The quicks were brilliant right through even if Ishant seemed to rattle them more with his mimes. Umesh found the ideal length for pacers in India at last, pitching up more in this series than he has ever in his career. Swing bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar was truculent enough to get one to rear up and hit the troubled Aussie opener David Warner on his chest. Touche! This was an Indian quick getting his own back at the Aussies, for long the undisputed champions of Test cricket until retirements in the mid-Noughties brought a golden era to an end.
And it appears now Team India’s era is just beginning because it has a battery of pace bowlers who will enjoy bowling abroad much more than on the designer pitches out here, except maybe the one in Dharamsala which had a bit of carry despite our expert curators doing everything to kill the life n the grass. It has been an eternal gripe of critics that India doctors its pitches to extract undue home advantage. Going ahead, Team India can expect severe challenges because curators will use every trick in the book to tilt the conditions in favour of their home team. The road ahead will be far tougher. The leading question is will our batting stand up to battering?
It won’t be long before we forget the ad blood the series generated. Kohli, who wished to take the on-field confrontations to another level by saying the Australian cricketers were no more his friends, cooled down somewhat in the immediate aftermath of the series itself. Of course, these things will crop up all over again in an Australian summer of Tests against India. Steve Smith’s ‘brain fade’ moment and his diatribe against ‘Indian c#@$%s’ will be reference points in every future dispute on the field as India-Australia cricket on the field is never going to simmer down.
In the final analysis, it was a stroke of genius on the part of the chairman of selectors and team coach Anil Kumble to play the chinaman-bowling young wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav in the decisive Test. He won the game for India on the opening day, bowling his chinaman and his googly while bringing in more than a whiff of fresh air to the cricket. He pitched up farther than his senior colleagues and the Aussie spin pair of Steve O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon and proved a point about the most effective length on Indian pitches. When next will we see the Chinese taking umbrage at an Indian saying he is a Chinaman bowler and foxing the Australians, that too at the home of the religious asylum seeker, the Dalai Lama?