India commenced its home cricketing season with a mammoth 500th test against New Zealand at Kanpur. It has been a long journey that started in June of 1932 at the mecca of world cricket in England, Lords. And it wasn’t until 1952 that India claimed its first test victory. A staggering 20 years after having played their first test match. A lot of highs and some lows later, here we are in 2016. And Virat Kohli’s men stand at the cusp of the world #1 ranking in tests.
From Vinoo Mankad’s 10 wicket match haul in that famous win against England in 1952 to Ravichandran Ashwin’s 10 wicket haul at Kanpur, the landscape of the Indian team has changed quite a bit. Long known to be a batting dependant line up with the likes of Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly, we’re now at a crossroads where the bowlers have it in them to swing and spin this Indian team to new heights. We’ve had our Debashish Mohantys and Hemang Badanis along the way but we have done pretty alright for the most part.
Starting with New Zealand, India begins a stretch of 13 straight home tests. NZ were considered to be in a slightly better shape. A tad bit well prepared than most other teams that tour India. Although as it usually is, teams find it a lot more difficult once they’re out on the 22 yards. It is much like the illusion that you can make long distance relationships work if you’re tech savvy and all too in love. But when it comes to the dirty work, you’re going to fall short one way or another. The spin twins of Ashwin and Jadeja coupled with the reverse swinging of Mohd. Shami handed India a comfortable victory at Kanpur.
The match however was far from gripping/exciting or anything that is in the vicinity of word ‘interesting’. So much so that you could have watched a movie based on a book by Chetan Bhagat and you wouldn’t have missed much in it.
Heading into the last day of the test match, India needed 6 NZ scalps to wrap up the win. Having been set a target of over 400 runs, NZ weren’t ever in contention to claim a victory. Yet they were battling for a draw on the last day of a slow. And deteriorating 5th day wicket at Kanpur was their best bet.
Ravichandran Ashwin became the second fastest in the world and fastest Indian bowler to reach 200 test wickets. He beat Harbhajan’s record of having achieved the similar feat in 46 tests. To put it into perspective, the great Murlitharan achieved his 200th test wicket in his 42nd test. In terms of deliveries, he’s the fastest ever having taken just 10291 balls to get to his 200 wickets.
On Monday, it was the 5th time that Ashwin had taken 10 or more wickets in a test match. He ended with figures of 10 for 225 in his 37th test match. It isn’t reiterated enough how lucky we are to have someone of his calibre and class putting in a shift for the national team day in day out. Ashwin isn’t the headline grabber or the most flamboyant. But he’s as effective as anyone in the game and lets his ball do the talking where it really matters. He’s your TamBrahm good boy who will treat your girl right and drop her back home after dinner with a small peck on the cheeks and politely declines to come in for coffee.
It would’ve taken a lot of rain and some really terrible bowling by the Indian line up to let this match get away from them. NZ started the day at 93/4 and this was expected to be a quick walk in the park for Virat Kohli’s team. But as you probably already know, doing it the easy way has never been India’s trademark. Satner and Ronchi went out of their way to frustrate the Indian bowling attack with a gritworthy partnership of over a 100. Ashwin and Jadeja, albeit relentless weren’t providing much in terms of opportunities and the NZ pair seemed to be tagging along quite comfortably.
Ronchi finally let excitement get the better of him and held out to a leading edge of Jadeja’s bowling. And then along came Mohd. Shami to absolutely decimate the New Zealand battling line up in a spell of breath taking reverse swing bowling. The match had completely turned on his head. And from a comfortable looking position; the black caps were not tottering at 205 for 7 heading into lunch. Ashwin wrapped up the formality after lunch on his way to his 19th 5 wicket haul. Ravindra Jadeja was declared the man of the match for consistent all round performance with bat and ball. Although the dance he did after getting to his 50 in the second innings warranted this award being taken away from him outright.
All in all, it was a happy milestone outing for the men in blue. With the long season that lies ahead, the signs are ominous and promising. For now though, let’s sit back and enjoy the victory. For the season is long and full of unexpected pitches that can well be taken to be full of terror.
Winning the 500th test combined with 200 test wickets for Ashwin will always remain special for team India.
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