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Yearender 2021: When India aced the Test of journey to the unknown

India had a remarkable journey in Tests in 2021

Bengaluru, December 31: There is a telling piece of stat. When India bowled out South Africa for 191 in their second innings at Centurion on Thursday (December 30) it was the 50th time they bundled out the opposition under 200 under Virat Kohli.

No other team has managed that number and the closest is Graeme Smith’s South Africa with 48. It was also the 12th time in 2021, India’s bowlers managed to roll over their rivals for a sub-200 total.

Along with India’s historic victory in the first Test at Centurion, that shard of number is big enough to reflect their overwhelming dominance in Test arena in the year gone by.

It is not a mere hyperbole. India have achieved success in varied conditions in Australia, England, India and South Africa in 2021. India could not land the World Test Championship (WTC) title, but the blip will not take any gloss out of their remarkable achievements as a team in the past one year.

The dream journey started against Australia at Sydney in January. Hanuma Vihari and a crippled R Ashwin fought it out against Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood for some three hours to earn India a draw.

But an even bigger miracle was in store when India chased down a 300+ target in Brisbane to end the Aussie dominance at the venue. It was orchestrated by an unusually restrained Rishabh Pant and Tim Paine’s 'come to Gabba’ taunt became the most-trolled-comment-of-the-year.

India never really took the foot off the pedal since that tour and embossed their superiority on all comers. England were tamed away for a 2-1 lead and were blown away at home despite losing the first Test at Chennai. New Zealand fought hard but could not match India at home and now SA bowed at their fortress, Centurion.

It was the first time an Asian country registered a Test victory in Centurion as the Proteas had dominated the SuperSport Park with 21 wins from 27 matches.

But as any great story, the spark for India’s Test run was ignited some time ago. The catharsis happened way back in 2017 when Virat Kohli in association with former coaches Ravi Shastri and B Arun made a studied effort to make India a force away from home too.

They coined an all-weather bowling unit and batsmen were taught to play on any kind of surface without fear and prejudice. It may not be a coincidence that we hardly heard India whinging about pitches or conditions in this period.

But the victories of 2021 should be considered with a lot more approbation as they were achieved while the players spent most of their time inside the bio-secure bubbles courtesy the still-prevalent Covid-19 pandemic.

It might have been hard for them to minimalise the personal interactions, team meetings etc and find the steam to perform on the field.

But that was never fronted as an excuse even when they experienced failure in the WTC Final or in the ICC T20 World Cup 2021 in the UAE, going down to Pakistan and New Zealand and getting ousted in the group stages itself.

All this became even more remarkable because India’s three batting mainstays — Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane — had a modest run in the 2021. None of them made a hundred this year. Kohli has made just 536 runs (4 fifties) from 11 Tests this year at 28.21 with a highest of 72.

Pujara too found the going tough, making 702 runs (6 fifties) across 14 Tests at 28.08 with a highest 91. Rahane paints an even bleaker picture, scoring just 411 runs in 21 innings at 19.57 with 2 fifties.

However, India were not bogged down. They found younger heroes in Pant, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Vihari, Shardul Thakur, Washington Sundar, T Natarajan, Mohammad Siraj etc.

In the company of seniors like Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami they pulled India to some hitherto untouched heights as the team finished the year as the No 1 ranked side in Test cricket.

It is a story worth to be made into a Netflix series, how India successfully completed the journey into the unknown.

Now, India have a new head coach in Rahul Dravid, himself not unfamiliar to charting pioneering triumphs during his captaincy stint.

Dravid’s style of coaching is vastly different from that of his predecessor Ravi Shastri. But if the team can pursue the same ethos, then there is no reason why 2022 too wouldn’t be as riveting.

(Stats courtesy: Tweets of Kausthub Gudipati)

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Story first published: Friday, December 31, 2021, 13:25 [IST]
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