During the final session of day two in Ahmedabad, as Indian wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant reverse paddled James Anderson for four, it felt like we were witnessing a watershed moment in the landscape of test cricket. The shot, so innovative, dispatched the bowler, so legendary – a perfect encapsulation of out with the old and in with the new.
Since the inception of the Indian Premier League, India’s hegemony over both the finances and shorter formats of world cricket has been increasingly apparent. Dominance in the five-day format, though, always seemed to elude them, as if the quaint charm of test match cricket were somehow above India’s money and power.
No longer. India are now the undisputed kings of test cricket. With their 3-1 series victory over England and the 2-1 victory over Australia that came before, this year India have conquered the other two members of cricket’s ‘Big Three’. Moreover, they now sit at the top of the World Test Championship table and they head into this summer’s final against New Zealand as strong favourites. So, what exactly makes this Indian test side so good?
The most important factor in India’s recent success is also the most obvious; they simply have better players, and more of them to choose from If you look at India’s lineup across the series, all eleven players are match winners.
Whereas, for example, only Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Stuart Broad, and Anderson have proven to be consistently able to win matches for England, most of India’s team has the ability to swing games in their favour.
In this series alone, when the Indian frontline batsmen have faltered, centuries from Ravichandran Ashwin, Pant, and a 96 not out from Washington Sundar have saved the game.
Likewise, when England’s batsmen managed to survive the high-class pace attack of Japrit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, and Ishant Sharma, the spin twins Ashwin and Axar Patel have picked them off with ease, amassing 59 wickets between them.
India also leads the way in exploiting the datafication of cricket. Bowling coach Bharat Arun, in conjunction with data scientists, has outthought both English and Australian batsmen. In Australia he managed largely to nullify arguably the best batsmen in the world, Steve Smith by eliminating his offside scoring chances, thereby strangling his run rate. Meanwhile, against England, strategies to combat Jonny Bairstow, Stokes and Ollie Pope all paid off, with each failing to make influential runs.
Surprisingly though, it is perhaps Australian Coach Justin Langer who can best account for India’s ascendency. In an interview with the Australian network Channel 7, following his side’s home series loss, Langer remarked “There are 1.5 billion Indians and if you’re going to play in that first eleven you got to be really tough, don’t you?”
It is a simple observation, but very telling. With that many cricket-mad Indians, it is no shock that their best eleven is better than any other nation’s.
As India celebrate the birth of their new reign, England are left more ambivalent towards the series outcome. No doubt Joe Root’s men will be disappointed, particularly after all the promise of the first test. Losing in India, however, is nothing new. The red ball side can now look forward to welcoming India to England this summer in a five-test series. A chance to take revenge presents itself to England as India have traditionally struggled in English conditions. For India, a victory in England would confirm their world dominance. So, only one question remains – can India do it on a cloudy, seaming, August morning in Nottingham?