Is this the best Test team India has ever had?
Of India’s 162 wins since getting Test status in 1932, 101 have come since 2000. That translates into an overall success rate of 29.45% (out of a total of 550 Tests played by India so far) and 45.9% (out of 220 Tests played since 2000). This is a team that has hit its stride. With 61 wins and only 13 defeats, India’s home performance since 2000 has been commanding. But the true change in that time has been the way India have conducted themselves overseas. Series win in Australia? Check. England? Check. Pakistan? New Zealand? Check and check.
These two decades have given India its three most successful captains — in order, Virat Kohli (36 won out of 60 Tests), MS Dhoni (27 of 60) and Sourav Ganguly (21 of 49).
While a team’s greatness is most easily measured by its wins and losses, there are, of course, distinctions within those parameters — the quality of the opposition, home or away, and uniquely in Test cricket, the ability to force a draw.
One common benchmark is the longest unbeaten run of a team. India recently strode onto this list too, going 19 Tests between 2015 and 2017 without losing. A major factor in that run was that, barring six of those matches, all were played at home. Even those six were played in the West Indies and Sri Lanka, where conditions and pitches are similar to those in India.
Does that take some of the shine off the record? Not really. Consider Australia’s longest winning streaks in the last two decades — 18 between 1999 and 2001 (by what is widely considered one of the greatest cricketing sides of all time) and 22 between 2005 and 2008. In both runs, Australia played only six Tests away from home each time. The tag of most dazzling unbeaten run remains with the West Indies, which did not lose once in 27 Tests between 1982 and ’84, despite playing 17 of those away from home.
The current India team is on its way to being truly great, having won two consecutive Test series in Australia, Tests in England and South Africa apart from an excellent home record of 40 wins out of 54 Tests since 2010. For the record, Australia, England and the post-apartheid South Africa have consistently been the teams to beat away. West Indies lost their mojo after 1999. New Zealand started becoming a force at home in the ’90s. Pakistan and India have not played each other at all since 2007.
As they prepare for the World Test Championship final against New Zealand from June 18, India seem worthy finalists, having topped the two-year Test Championship cycle where they won 12 matches, lost four and drew one. How does that compare with the India teams of past decades?
Going strictly by the numbers, India have been best at home since 2010 but they also lost more in the SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) countries during this time.
Let’s start in 1970-71, when India first made Test history by winning a series in the West Indies. In the two decades since then, India drew more matches than they won at home. Away, between 1971 and 1980, India won twice in Port of Spain, once each in Melbourne, Sydney and The Oval. In the following decade, they won in Melbourne (1981) before two consecutive victories, at Lord’s and Leeds, in 1986. But this was also the period when India drew 20 Tests in Pakistan, England, Australia and the West Indies — never have India drawn more Tests in the nations that matter. That was an era when not losing mattered almost as much as winning.
Between 1990 and 1999, India didn’t win a single Test in top tier nations but, for the first time, won more than they drew at home.
The big change came in the 2000s, when India won eight Tests in England, Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand and South Africa while maintaining a home win percentage of 44.68%.
Since 2010, India have been on the rampage at home, winning 40 out of 54 Tests. That’s a win percentage of 74.07. India again won eight Tests in England, South Africa and Australia in this period, but since they played more away Tests than in the previous decade, the win percentage comes to just over 19. Going by the overall win percentage, India have been best at home since 2010 and best away between 2000 and 2009.
The picture changes once draws are taken into consideration. India still have the best unbeaten run at home since 2010, but when you compare it with the previous decades, they aren’t ahead by much.
Surprisingly, the away figures take a proper hit. Unbeaten in 62.5% of the away Tests played between 2000 and 2009 — coinciding with the time they won in England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Pakistan — India end up with an unbeaten percentage of 38.09 since 2010. Why? Because India have lost an unprecedented 26 Tests in the top cricketing nations, equalling the losses of the two previous decades put together.
It’s a sign of the times. Not only is this team playing more Tests than ever, there’s also now a penchant for risk-taking, IPL-style accelerated scoring and “positive intent”, which is sometimes just a euphemism for not having the grit required in Tests.
Yet, there was that magical draw that India played out in Sydney in January; a few more of those at the right junctures could help make a great team greater.
VICTORY IN CHENNAI: INDIA’S FIRST TEST WIN
It took almost 20 years and 24 Tests after the 1932 debut at Lord’s, for India to achieve their historic first victory. The Vijay Hazare-led team beat India’s erstwhile colonial masters, England, by an innings and 8 runs at Chennai’s then Madras Cricket Club ground (Chepauk) in 1951/52.
The hero of the victory was the great all-rounder Vinoo Mankad, who captured 8/55 and 4/53 on a pitch that wasn’t really helpful for spin bowling. Mankad’s left-arm spin helped dismiss England for 266 in the first innings, with Dick Spooner (66) and Jack Robertson (77) being the only batsmen completing half-centuries.
India piled up 457/9 declared in reply, thanks to centuries from opener Pankaj Roy (111) and Polly Umrigar, who made 130 coming in at No. 7. The Donald Carr-led England, in their second innings, folded for 183 with only Robertson (56) showing resistance. Mankad’s 4-wicket haul was complemented by leg-spinner Ghulam Ahmed, who took 4/77.
The India team also included Syed Mushtaq Ali, independent India’s first overseas centurion, and Lala Amarnath, independent India’s first cricket captain, who would retire at the end of the year.
The victory, in February 1952, was India’s first big breakthrough as a cricketing nation. The team had not managed to win any of the 12 previous home Tests.
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