What makes the 203-run victory special is that it’s the first time India has won a Test in England after losing the previous one.
A week is a long time in politics, but an eternity in Indian cricket. Last week, Virat Kohli had the support of R. Ashwin and Hardik Pandya in patches while the rest of the team had gone AWOL as India were schooled by England at Lord’s. This week India are firing on all cylinders, have pulled off one of the great reversals of all time — even with two Tests to play and trailing 1-2 down — and England are under the pump with injury, fitness and form concerns.
What is truly remarkable about India’s 203-run win at Trent Bridge is the fact that no Indian team, since 1932, has won a Test in England after just losing the previous one. Here is a team that lost two Tests, the first honourably and the second in humiliating fashion, and yet they bounced back with the verve of a Yo-Yo defying gravity at the end of its string.
This team does not believe in looking back. They have little use for history. But even while living in the present, a go-to mantra for modern sportsmen, it is not a bad idea to learn from what went before, to respect the fact that you are walking in footsteps created by some men who had more of an uphill climb than you. It is worth also not being so absorbed in the moment that you fail to prepare for a future that is always rushing towards you.
No team has won a series in England after being 2-0 down, since the great Sir Donald Bradman’s unit back in 1936-37. Which made it understandable that most followers of Indian cricket were less than enthusiastic about India’s chances before the start of the third Test. Living in the present — and this is in some ways such a tired phrase, for who can actually live in the past or the future — may be useful for sportsmen, but for those who follow the game, the fans, the past is not something to be blocked out or discarded.
“1936-37 … I wasn’t even born. Why are you reminding me of ’36-37?” Ravi Shastri, the Indian coach, said when asked about his team’s chance to rewrite, or at least update, history.
“One match at a time, we live in the present, okay? One game at a time. Nottingham is over. There’s a break and we move to Southampton and start afresh. Take a fresh guard. In 2018.”
The need to take a series one match at a time, especially when you’re talking about five Tests away in England, cannot be underscored. After losses in the first two Tests, Shastri demanded accountability from his players, and virtually ordered them to spend less time practicing and more time clearing their minds. That turned out to be exactly what the players needed.
In terms of accountability, the major factor from the batting unit was the need to recognise the fact that they were playing in trying conditions against a quality attack and there was no substitute to occupying the crease for as long as possible. All the talent in the world, all the intent in the tent, is of little use out in the middle if you cannot weather the storm. And weather they did. The openers, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, all came good, while Kohli was his usual magnificent self, and the results are there for all to see.
The bowlers needed to be accountable in a different way. The quick men had to ensure that they did not stop at gloating over being faster than the 36-year-old James Anderson. Rather, they needed to learn from him and emulate his ability to not give away easy runs when the conditions did not favour. They needed to build pressure by not bowling bad spells to batsmen new to the crease.
The all-rounder, Hardik Pandya, had to bowl with the mindset that he was there to contribute to the cause, not just trundle in and roll his arm over in order to give the specialists a break. And Pandya, when he got it right, produced the kind of impact that he is picked for, the kind of X-factor that has catapulted him to the top ahead of several others of his breed.
A major need for accountability came in the slip catching, one department that India has consistently outdone its opposition in. When you play in South Africa and England, the edges are going to fly, but if the slip fielders don’t latch on, there’s very little point in fast bowlers bending their backs. K.L. Rahul brought a sense of calm to the cordon, and with it confidence grew and chances were grabbed.
Shastri hailed Rahul as a natural in the position and said that he had to be persisted with there. Sure, but that is a call that the team makes. Rahul can’t be at slip if he isn’t in the team and this statement, along with the fact that M. Vijay is on a flight back to Chennai, could be an indication that the musical chairs at the opening position has finally come to an end.
The fact that the song won’t play again for Vijay is disappointing, yet came with an air of inevitability. It is difficult to see him adding to his tally of 59 Tests, but then again nothing is impossible in Indian cricket.
Kuldeep Yadav, the most talked about Indian spinner ahead of this series, a player who was brought into the eleven despite not having played a Ranji Trophy match in a year, went wicketless in conditions that offered him nothing, and he too will watch the rest of the series on the television. From mystery spinner set to rock England’s boat, it took one Test and barely three weeks for Kuldeep to be declared surplus to requirement.
If Vijay’s exit was foretold, so was the entry of Prithvi Shaw, the young gun from Mumbai who ticks more boxes than a person conducting a market survey. Not so much the entry of Hanuma Vihari, the Andhra batsman who averages nearly 60 in first-class cricket, more than any of his contemporaries around would, including Steve Smith, who comes in second at 57.
Strong square of the wicket on both sides and with a promising recent body of work under the belt, Vihari has made a case for himself. But if you asked him a week ago if he thought he was in contention for place in the Indian Test team for the fourth Test in England, Vihari would have looked at you like you’d lost your mind.
But then again, that’s a week in Indian cricket. Some doors open even as others are slammed firmly shut.