“The Aussies come here and nick everything. We go there and get bumped out. That is it in a nutshell.” This was Graeme Swann, the former England off-spinner, on how the home advantage is playing out in international cricket today.
Of late this has been the norm around the world. Barring South Africa, none seem comfortable on the road. India, in particular, has always given an impression of a team which seeks to nurse its internationally-inflicted wounds within the close confines of its own borders. After being pilloried for its humiliating 0-8 away streak in 2011-12, the moment it beat Australia 4-0 in early 2013 at home, everything seemed forgotten.
It is in this context that India’s recent 2-1 away series win against Sri Lanka is to be seen. India had not won a series outside home for the past four years. The last came in the West Indies in 2011. The notion is that Sri Lanka is the closest to India in terms of conditions and a win here might not carry the same weight as one outside the sub-continent. But even here India had last won a series way back in 1993.
Now that it has the win, which Virat Kohli described as the “right kind of catalyst for us to play the same kind of cricket in the future as well, wherever we play,” it’s time to look at what precipitated it.
1. Pace-men & spinners —
The combination of R. Ashwin, Amit Mishra and Harbhajan Singh took 37 of the 60 Sri Lankan wickets. But a huge part of their success came after riding piggy back on the seamers. In the first two Tests, Ashwin and Mishra were lent favours by the pace battery. In the third, the two spinners returned it.
“The way they have bowled in partnerships in this series has been something that has stood out,” said Kohli. “For a captain making changes, it makes your job very easy. You don’t have to tell the guys what to do because they understand one guy is striking, getting wickets so I need to go out there, control runs and create that pressure. That communication between all the bowlers has really helped. I think this series belongs to the bowlers.”
2. No gargantuan scores,
but effective batting
In the six innings played, no Indian batsman even crossed the 250-run mark collectively (Kohli 233). But five of them scored centuries. And the ones who didn’t reach the three-figure mark, like Rohit Sharma (202), scored crucial half-centuries. In effect India seemed to have a man whenever it needed one.
Also it didn’t matter who opened. M. Vijay, K. L. Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan or Cheteshwar Pujara. The last three named scored centuries and Vijay an 82. And all except Dhawan’s hundred came in a winning cause. It meant that the six opening partnerships that the various pairs stitched together — 14, 12, 4, 3, 2 and 0 — though worrisome, were deemed irrelevant.
3. The wagging tail
In the two Test matches which India won, the last four wickets added 74, 63, 139 and 114 runs. Amit Mishra in six innings scored 157 runs with a highest score of 59. Wriddhiman Saha marshalled the tail admirably, scoring 131 runs in four innings with two half-centuries.
“In our concept of five bowlers, the captain always wants that his bowlers should also score runs,” said Mishra.
“So the effort is to score as many runs as possible by the tail-enders and put as much pressure as possible on the opposition. That will be helpful to us. All our bowlers, especially spinners, they can bat a bit and they bat well. And we are hoping that we can keep on improving on it.”
4. Kohli, the captain
In the past, Indians have been guilty of repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Kohli’s captaincy was a refreshing change. Twice in the series, when Sri Lankan batsmen were dominating, Dinesh Chandimal in the first Test and Rangana Herath and Kusal Perera in the final Test, the Indians brought out the familiar defence of “nothing much could be done”.
On the final day, however, when Angelo Mathews and Perera were similarly hurting India, a plan was devised and executed.
Even prior to the series, Kohli had hinted at being a captain in the collaborative mode. Through the series he displayed that, constantly talking to his team-mates and exchanging ideas.
“I want guys to be more expressive and I want guys to share their ideas with me,” he said after the win in the second Test. “I want them to speak their mind because they are intelligent cricketers. By speaking their mind, some ideas strike me. I might not be able to think about them because there is so much going on. We want to make the guys feel more responsible and more involved in the game throughout. They are thinking about the game every over, which is a good thing for the team.”