I have enjoyed watching India play limited overs cricket recently as much for the results they are stringing together as for the manner in which those are being achieved. Even in this series against Australia, they haven’t let tricky situations worry them; instead they have attacked them armed with confidence and that is an ability the very best teams over the years have had.
I have heard it said, and it is a valid point, that the opposition in recent times hasn’t exactly been intimidating and the conditions haven’t been alien. At times like these, you look at the style of cricket as much as you do the quality of the opposition, and that is why I thought 9-0 in Sri Lanka was a memorable result. To go up 3-0 against Australia (which is what it is as I write this) is memorable too. Yes, this isn’t quite the Australia we have known and admired but it is no pushover. Both in Sri Lanka and now against Australia, India have made the opposition look lesser than they are.
The numbers behind the larger ones are worth taking a look at as well. The current captain and the former one are playing as well as they ever have. Virat Kohli has an average in the 80s and a strike rate of 100 while MS Dhoni, even if occasionally giving the impression that he is slower than before, averages in the mid-seventies at a strike rate of about 85. And the bowlers are producing wickets. Not just the spinners but the combination of Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah has been excellent. A wicket every six overs at an economy rate around 5 is something every captain would crave for and I would venture to say that the bowlers are as much the heroes of these recent results as the batsmen are.
Not surprisingly then, India are number one on the ICC Rankings and it will be interesting to see how long they stay there. Reaching the summit is a great achievement but staying there is indicative of class and dominance and it is the good bowling sides that tend to stay there. But the bigger challenge begins this January when India start touring traditionally pace friendly countries. Admittedly, it will be a bigger challenge in Test cricket than in limited overs cricket but as the great skew in David Warner’s home and away averages, even in 50 over cricket, suggests, playing away is still far more difficult than playing at home.
It will be a test for Kohli whose captaincy record, with 30 wins in his 38 games in charge, currently puts him among the very best. Ricky Ponting had 31 wins in his first 38 games in charge, Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd had 30 and Hansie Cronje and Michael Clarke had 28. Pause a while to reflect on the teams these great players led and the effect they had on the opposition. To be in that group is excellent and over the next twelve months I will be watching to see if Kohli can stay in the group, or indeed, carve a place for himself.