Bengaluru, January 7: The 2-1 scoreline and India's apparent moments of domination throughout this series suggest Virat Kohli and his men cantered to a series triumph over Australia at their home, a first in the history of Indian cricket. The Aussies struggled the whole series because of lack of quality and competitiveness in their ranks, making India's job that much easier.
Oh! debunk those notions! Nothing is farther than truth. At the best, they are partial truths. Kohli and his men, in fact, had to take a harsh route to success against Australia. To begin with, history, recent and the one stretched back to seven decades, stood against them. They may never admit it, but the Indians arrived at Australia with a baggage, an oversized one at that after squandering chances against South Africa and England in the earlier part of 2018.
There were serious doubts over their ability to cross the line despite the constant rhetoric of them being a squad living in the present. Sometimes, shadows of the past can be too overbearing than you imagine. But if there was a point to prove, then Kohli or anyone from the team hardly showed it while presenting to the world the picture of a contended bunch. Desire for an overseas win might have been boiling underneath.
It never got easy for India as the series unfolded. Prithvi Shaw was ruled out with an ankle injury even before the first Test and never played. There were hardly any runs from the first-choice openers - KL Rahul and M Vijay and the start to the series at Adelaide, 19/3 inside the first 10 overs, was too dark. In the four innings they appeared together, Rahul and Vijay could not manage to put together 50 runs.
It prompted the team management to rope in Mayank Agarwal as opener and promote Hanuma Vihari to the pole position for the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne. Going in with a makeshift opener in a must-win game with the series poised at 1-1 was a decision fraught with danger but Vihari occupied the crease enough to give some breathing space for batsmen down the order. They did not have to step in at 2/1 or 10/2 and start a rescue mission against a set of pumped up bowlers.
R Aswhin, the premier spinner of the side, played just one Test at Adelaide, getting sidelined with a "left abdominal strain" while Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami were the only bowlers to appear in all four Tests. The injuries to Ashwin and Rohit Sharma added to the selection woes and it reflected in their Perth defeat. India opted for an all-pace attack in the second Test and the absence of a spinner might have haunted them seeing Nathan Lyon making decisive blows for Australia.
India had the option of including either Ravindra Jadeja or Kuldeep Yadav but played Umesh Yadav, who was vastly underwhelming. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who was in the squad, and Hardik Pandya, who was rushed to Australia after playing just a Ranji Trophy match for Baroda, were never used. Ishant Sharma did not play at Sydney because of an injury and India overcame the blow adding Kuldeep, who took five wickets.
Last time India played against Australia, Kohli was head and shoulders above the rest of the batsmen scoring more than 600 runs but this time his numbers were a far cry from his usual standards, without forgetting that bloody-minded hundred at Perth. Kohli was India's best batsman against South Africa and England as well last year. But this time Cheteshwar Pujara was India's standout batsman with 521 runs at 74.42 with three hundreds and Rishabh Pant too had more runs than Kohli - 350 at 58.33. The vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane's contribution was two fifties.
The Indian skipper managed 282 at 40.28 to occupy the number three slot and Kohli would not mind that one bit considering he led the side to a series win. He told us as much. "I want to say I've never been prouder of being part of a team, than this one right here. Our transition began right here, where I took over as captain, and I can't believe that after four years we've won here. Just one word to say, 'proud', to lead this team. The boys make the captain look good. By far, this is my biggest achievement. It's at the top of the pile. The series win will give us a different identity."
That identity which Kohli spoke did not come easy. They grabbed it because the team showed the character to withstand difficult moments. For this team, this is not the peak but a step towards the highest point.