Six consecutive Test series wins – their best ever run in Test cricket. Nineteen Tests undefeated – the most they have ever managed. Fifteen victories in those 19 Tests. The numbers speak for themselves. They also beg a question: could this team turn out to be the greatest India Test team of all time?
On that, judgement should be reserved for the moment.
Why is it not the greatest already? Look at what this side has going for it. In Virat Kohli, it has a positive, high-octane, astute captain who as much leads from the front as pushes from behind. Kohli has won 15 of his first 23 Tests as skipper; only Steve Waugh won more – 17 – after his first 23 Tests as captain.
In Kohli, again, India has one of the best batsmen in the game today. He has scored double centuries in four consecutive Test series now – a feat never achieved in the history of cricket. But it’s not merely that.
How Kohli has adapted, how his fitness allows him to run hard singles even towards the end of a long innings, how he has curbed his excitement and complacency and gone from being a scorer of small hundreds to one of daddy hundreds is proof of how complete a player he has become. He will no doubt have a blip, but at the moment he looks pretty much unstoppable.
Murali Vijay has been reborn as a classic Test opener. Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, understated, underrated, eschewing the flamboyance that marks Kohli and Rohit Sharma, form the spine of the batting. Wriddhiman Saha is a far better wicket keeper than his predecessor, MS Dhoni.
Ravichandran Ashwin is scaling heights none have scaled before. Fastest to 250 Test wickets, he has been picking up Man of the Match and Man of the Series awards like a frequent flier accumulating air miles.
Moving away from his earlier obsession with experimentation, he has developed a cunning change of pace and has become a potent, match-winning off spinner. Nagging, accurate and quick through the air, Ravindra Jadeja, at home at least, is an able foil. The seamers, on the whole, are holding up.
Why, then, should we withhold our verdict on the greatness of this team?
India’s recent series victories away from home have come against Sri Lanka and the West Indies – depleted sides that are struggling to consolidate. At home, India have thumped England, New Zealand and Bangladesh. Creditable wins, all of them, especially in view of the fact that they were not achieved on rank turners that put the opposition at an immediate disadvantage. We should exult in the victories. It is only fair.
But for a shot at all-time greatness, this team needs to win outside Asia against sides stronger than Sri Lanka or the West Indies. After the forthcoming home series against Australia, India play Tests away against England, South Africa and Australia. Those are the true litmus tests. How India fare in those arduous series will tell us where this particular side stands in the pantheon of great India Test teams.