India’s head coach Ravi Shastri showered mighty words of praise on Virat Kohli and his men ahead of the second Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo.
Shastri had said: “This team has been together for two years now. They are much more experienced now. They have already done things which a lot of Indian teams and some big names could not achieve, like winning a series here (Sri Lanka). A lot of big players with 20 years of experience have not done that. I am very positive here that this team can do things that probably no other Indian team has done.”
The ‘probably’ in the last sentence is important before we jump the gun on declaring the current Indian side is the best it has been over the years.
The team currently sits top of the ICC Test rankings and has been on a roll for the large part of the last two years.
India’s rise to the top started with a historic series victory here in Sri Lanka two years back and since then Kohli’s men have gone on to conquer South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand and Australia before returning to the island nation.
In this period of domination, the big three of South Africa, England and the Aussies were vanquished on home conditions while the only overseas victories have come against the West Indies and Sri Lanka.
While the wins over Sri Lanka and West Indies are impressive, one must not forget that Windies have been a side in terminal decline for some time and Sri Lanka are an outfit in transition, still struggling to replace their legendary players.
Though tougher opponents have been beaten at home, it is not an entirely accurate reflection of how good this current team are, given that the Men in Blue have always been traditionally strong in their own backyard.
Since the turn of the millennium, only two touring parties have managed to beat India at home.
Alastair Cook’s England in 2012-13 and Ricky Ponting’s Australia in 2004 slightly embellish what is an enviable home record for the subcontinent giants.
One would need to go further back to 1999 to look up India’s only other home series defeat in over three decades since 1987. Hansie Cronje’s South Africa beat a Sachin Tendulkar-led India 2-0 in a two-match series.
With just three series losses in as many decades, it is safe to say that India’s domination at home is a norm rather than an exception.
The ICC Test calendar has perfectly aligned for Kohli and his men in the last two years as they have played majority of their cricket on the subcontinent itself.
The Indian sides led by Saurav Ganguly and Mahender Singh Dhoni were as dominant as Kohli’s on home surfaces and it is only overseas that their struggles started. While Ganguly’s squad had some important victories abroad, Dhoni’s team had a dreadful record against the likes of England and Australia.
So for Shastri to crown the current team as the greatest Indian team in the past 20 years is a bit of a stretch. Three tough Tests await his team in South Africa at the end of the current year and it is there where India’s true mettle will be tested.
The subcontinent team has never won a Test series in South Africa in their entire history with a 1-1 drawn series in 2010 being the best result they have achieved against the Proteas.
In fact, 2018 will be the acid Test for Shastri’s boys when they travel to England and Australia for extensive tours.
The performances against the big three will set a precedence how Kohli’s team will be judged and compared to their contemporaries from previous eras.
India last won a Test series in England in 2007, 21 years after their previous victory in 1986 while the Aussie frontier still remains unconquered in almost 70 years since independence.
Until they make an inroad in those series, Shastri’s high praise will only ring hollow in the ears of the previous squads who have been through the same grind of achieving big at home only to fail overseas.