The Indian cricket team has turned out to be the most gracious guests that you can ever think of. They are invited by cricket boards in great trouble or going through rough patches or just in plain need of some cash. Not only do they deliver bumper revenue (earned obviously from long suffering Indian cricket fans) but also a series with India, more often than not, marks a turnaround in the fortune of their cricket teams and elongates the career of their top players by at least a couple of years. No wonder, the Indian cricket team has been so much in demand that they have not been able to play a single test series at home since the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar. And in that period, they have not managed to win a single match, apart from a solitary win at the Lord’s, which was of course a ploy by the English to get the Indians into a false sense of complacency, before proceeding to brutally slaughter them. (After all they have ruled us for two centuries; they know more about our psyche than we do).
Here is a rundown of how this great Indian team, in the last nineteen months, has made great opposition out of mediocre ones, elevated their opposition captains to the status of legends and have managed to breathe fresh air of life into morbid careers.
- Tour of South Africa , late 2013:
By the end of 2013, the South African team was going through a generational change. Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis were on the verge of retirement in test cricket. The ODI team was a mix of fresh blooded youngsters comingling with legends in the making like Hashim Amla, De Villiers and Dale Steyn. But, if there were potential vulnerabilities in the team, the series with India completely settled them. Quinton de Kock, a promising wicket keeper cum opening batsmen, hit three successive centuries to win the ODI series 2-0. (Then, of course, he went onto do basically nothing for the remainder for his career till date).
In the first test, India set the South Africans a target of 458 in the second innings. In the first telling of a story that was to repeat itself a number of times, the Proteas almost managed to chase it, finishing at 450/7, and falling short because of lack of balls, of both kinds. All of India’s fight went out in that innings. They went on to lose the second test badly and allowed Jacques Kallis to sign off with a century because, of course, a legend like him deserves it and it would have been impolite to deny him that.
- Tour of New Zealand, early 2014:
New Zealand has not really been a great test cricket team, at least in the last decade. But even by their standards, they were doing rather badly. They were getting whitewashed by Bangladesh in ODIs and were getting shot out for less than 50 against South Africa. The captaincy had just passed on from their ex-captain to current captain in the most contentious of circumstances, an episode that was handled so badly that it left the small cricket island deeply divided. In other words, they looked ill prepared for the cricket world cup about to be staged in their country one year from then. No problem; they invited the Indians over, who then went on to lose the ODI series 0-4 and the Test series 0-1. McCullum, the new captain, got to score a double hundred and an uncharacteristic triple hundred to save the second test from a losing position. He thus silenced his critics, revived his team and then went on to start one of the most glorious chapters in the whole of New Zealand cricket history.
- Tour of England, mid 2014:
The 0-5 drubbing at the hand of the Aussies had left huge, permanent scars on the English cricket psyche. They had lost players like Graeme Swann and Jonathan Trott in that series and Matt Prior and Ian Bell were badly out of form. The endless bickering over the axing of Kevin Pietersen had left everyone tired. Cook did not look capable of scoring runs to save his life. And they had just lost a series against Sri Lanka at home. Under such trying circumstances, the ECB did what they could – they scheduled a home series with India. And the Indians did what they could – after putting up some fight in the first two tests and snatching a victory in Lords (which included the surreal sight of Ishant Sharma bouncing out batsmen), they were massacred so badly in the next three tests that even Jallianwala Bagh looked less grotesque in comparison. Cook revived his career, Bell, Root, Anderson and Broad regained their forms and Moeen Ali started to look more menacing that Muttiah Muralitharan. Boosted by that victory and with the basic structure of a new test team in place, England went on to regain the Ashes one year later.
As a caveat though, the England team lost the ODI series against India, which just showed that there is a limit to which the healing power of the Indian cricket team works.
- Tour of Australia, late 2014 and early 2015:
Australia, hosting a cricket world cup for the first time in 23 years, was not exactly very well prepared for the tournament. They had just been drubbed by Pakistan in UAE. Michael Clarke, their captain, was in poor form and had a long running dispute with the cricket board. Their batting order looked fragile. And then, the whole Aussie cricket establishment was shocked by the accidental demise of Phil Hughes on the cricket pitch. But the series against India allowed them to crease over these weaknesses and approach the world cup in full strength. Clarke made a fighting century with a hamstring injury to save his career for the time being. Smith made more runs in the series than Rohit Sharma did in his entire career and settled the question of future captaincy once and for all. Almost all the Australian batsmen came back to runs. Mitchell Johnson regained his mojo. Josh Hazlewood made an impressive debut. And Mitchell Starc showed his abilities in the ODI series. Australia went into the World Cup well prepared and went on to win it, thrashing India along the way, again in the semis.
- Tour of Bangladesh, mid 2015:
Bangladesh had shown some promise in the World Cup and had defeated Pakistan in a home ODI series. But no one was sure if this was the long overdue coming of an age of a perennially under-performing team or just a flash in the pan. The series with India settled that. After the Test match was washed out, a full strength Indian team went on to lose the ODI series 2-1. And the name of Mustafizur Rahman was added to the long list of international players who can thank their stars for getting the chance to debut against India.
- Tour of Sri Lanka, mid 2015:
The story that has been told over so many series is again being repeated here. Sri Lanka is no longer the cricketing force it used to be. Jayawardane has already left cricket. Sangakkara is going to leave after this series. Rangana Herath also appears to be in the last stage of his career. No one from the new generation of Sri Lankan cricket, apart from Angelo Mathews, has really impressed a lot of people. They just lost a home series against Pakistan who were in turn embarrassed by Bangladesh not long back. What better way to tide over the crisis than by staging a series against India.
And the Indians have also obliged as always. After having Sri Lanka down in the dumps at the end of the second day, they have allowed them to walk away with the first test match. It is the same thing that happened in Johannesburg, in Wellington, in Melbourne and in Brisbane. This Indian team has done so much to turn around struggling teams that Mitt Romney would be proud of them. They have given their opponents the longest of long ropes, in acts that have looked straight out of the Indian rope trick.
Thankfully for Indian fans though, this disastrous global tour of the Indian cricket team is coming to an end and hopefully, they will start winning some matches in India for a change.