14 months after India gained independence in 1947, its cricket team sailed from Mumbai to Darwin to undertake their first tour of Australia. The Indian cricket team, in spite of some outstanding players such as Vijay Hazare, Vinoo Mankad, Lala Amaranth and Dattu Phadkar, were thoroughly thrashed by the Aussies, losing the five-Test Series 4-nil with one Test drawn.
Since that 1948-49 contest, India has never won a test series here, till Virat Kohli’s team did so just over a week ago.
For Kohli and his band of 18 players, what an absolutely thrilling moment after the near-total massacres which the Indian party in tours past has endured in Australia. Even for the Indian Australian fans, there was much to cheer about after years of dismal performances by their team.
For a team which is known for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the focus and dedication shown this time around was indeed commendable.
Preparation and belief seemed to be the keys for this epic success.
In 1948-49, the great Sir Don Bradman playing for Australia noted this about the Indian team: “I first saw them play in Adelaide when South Australia were their opponents. I made a century in this match, and in doing so formed the conclusion that our Test team would make a lot of runs against them for two reasons: firstly, their bowling, whilst reasonably steady and sound, lacked a really fast bowler, and what is probably more important, a really high-class spinner. Secondly, to my surprise, they were weak in the field.”
Fast forward 71 years and there was a rich choice for the selectors in picking their pacemen and their tweakers. With five fast ball specialists and three spinners, the team had a depth which was seldom seen in their line-up.
Over the years, the focus on fielding, largely driven by the players’ commitments to IPL, has also been razor sharp.
Yes, the Australians were without their dynamic duo of Smith and Warner, serving out their punishments after sandpaper-gate. Between the two, they were probably good for about 150 runs per innings; in fact, David Warner has the prize of scoring the 4th fastest Test century against the Indians on their last tour. Be that as it may, if the situation was reversed, with Kohli and Pujara sidelined from the Indian team, there would still have been enough depth in the team to progress the cause. That the Australian team was caught short with the lack of good options to select the national team from, is something which the administrators need to attend to beyond the return of the sidelined Smith and Warner.
Success also wins you new friends. The support which the Indian cricket team got from their adoring fans was at levels never seen before in Australia. Be it the Bharat Army or the Swami Army or the lone brand of the tricolour-turbaned Gurnam Singh, the chants, the songs and the flag waving created a buzz around the various grounds. Well done, folks, your excitement was certainly infectious.
And finally, to the Indian captain Virat Kohli: you came, you saw, you conquered. Not only did you win the Border Gavaskar trophy, you also won the hearts of the Aussies, who, to borrow a phrase from the Federal Minister for Sport Bridget McKenzie, have all but declared they have a cricket crush on you.
Well done, Team India!