A winning streak of six!

Mahendra Singh Dhoni receives the Border-Gavaskar Trophy from the legends themselves after India had whitewashed Australia in a four-Test series at home.-PTI

It was a fruitful year in which India enhanced its image as a formidable team and its Test triumphs stood out as glowing examples of the progress made by the squad under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, writes Vijay Lokapally.

A team in transition was transformed into a team well aware of its expectations. After six Test wins in a row at home, against Australia and the West Indies, the Indian team was critically analysed even before a ball had been bowled in the two-match series in South Africa. There were encouraging signs from South Africa as India stood up to the challenges in the first Test and came out creditably high on spirit and reputation.

The triumphs against Australia had to be seen in the right perspective. India was always formidable at home, given the nature of the pitches and, of course, the strength of the team where bowlers like Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh successfully won matches with their skills.

But a 1-2 loss to England had shaken the confidence of a squad which backed itself when playing at home.

When the Australians arrived for a four-Test series, there was a debate regarding the type of pitches to be rolled out. The Board had advocated sporting tracks, which essentially meant surfaces that encouraged bowlers. The emphasis here was on bouncy and green pitches, but against the Australians the policy underwent a complete change.

Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni favoured pitches that helped spinners and once again it was a throwback to the days when India would destroy oppositions on the basis of their slow bowlers’ skills. Nothing wrong, argued the experts, as long as the team knew what to expect when it travelled overseas. The point the team made was no team in the world lets go home advantage and India’s chances lay in having spinner-friendly pitches. So it was…slow surfaces that made Australia look so out of place.

Chennai, Hyderabad, Mohali and Delhi played host to Australia which started well in the first Test with a century by Michael Clarke raising hopes of a keen series. But a double century from Dhoni placed India in an unassailable position and paved the way for a comfortable victory. The trend continued with Australia losing the last Test in three days. It was a true reflection of the difference between the teams. Australia could not tackle spin and India did nothing wrong.

The series against Australia was marked by the decline of Virender Sehwag, who lost his place after failures in the first two Tests. The series also heralded Shikhar Dhawan’s majestic entry into the international arena. His century on debut was hailed as one of the finest he had seen by G. R. Viswanath, who had also made a sensational debut in 1969 against the Aussies in Kanpur.

Shikhar Dhawan.. earned rave reviews after a breathtaking century on debut. This was against Australia in Mohali.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

The ease with which Dhawan slipped into the role was a sign of Indian cricket’s bench strength. True, he could not be considered a ready replacement for Sehwag, but he did show early signs of assuming the responsibility for some time. His innings was a landmark feat in a series that India dominated.

Australia was outplayed in every department. It hardly looked the team it was feared to be. The lack of ability to play spin was so pronounced that the result was taken as a foregone conclusion. The Australians left beaten and bruised and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) then invited the West Indies for a hurriedly-organised two-Test series.

This was Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell series. The focus was on the world’s greatest cricketer and the nation paid tributes in every possible way. Tendulkar was obviously overwhelmed with the passion and the affection that marked his retirement and his speech at the Wankhede Stadium confirmed his love for the game and his fans.

The series against the West Indies lacked competitive flavour and so the quality of cricket was not that was expected at the Test level. The West Indians played mediocre cricket and made things easy for the home team. Sadly, Tendulkar could bat just twice in the two Tests, but his final innings stood out for its composition.

South Africa was the concluding destination for the year and Virat Kohli emerged as a batsman of immense character. His ability to adapt and thrive was spectacularly demonstrated in the first Test in Johannesburg where he had scores of 119 and 96. Cheteshwar Pujara too came up with a determined century. India’s batting future looked secure in the hands of these two batsmen even as the team management backed Rohit Sharma to join their ranks.

It was a fruitful year in which India enhanced its image as a formidable team in all three formats of the game. There were more gains than losses and the Test triumphs stood out as glowing examples of the progress made by the team under the leadership of Dhoni.