India’s stirring victory in the Commonwealth Bank tri-series in Australia was the perfect note on which to end an arduous and often fractious tour. While it is premature to conclude that the edifice of Australia’s dominance is crumbling, the historic win — following a closely contested Test series — suggests that the champion side has at last found its cricketing counterpoint. India has threatened Australia’s authority, primarily in Test cricket, since 2001. But M.S. Dhoni, in extending Anil Kumble’s admirable work in the classical format, ensured that India consistently challenged Australia for the duration of the tour. Just as significantly, India’s success against the 2007 World Cup winner and runner-up during the tri-series justified the captain’s and selectors’ investment in youth. The benefits of younger, more athletic bodies in ground fielding and running between the wickets were obvious, but the question of skill remained. Few expected the young side to acquit itself proficiently in one of world cricket’s sternest tests of skill and adaptability. The hopeful view ahead of the series saw it as a process of toughening — of inevitable defeat callusing the callow. But not only did India surpass itself on the field, it handled the controversies surrounding the cricket more capably than the seasoned Australians.
Cricket teams often develop to reflect the qualities of their leaders. India played a brand of one-day cricket that might have been fashioned by Dhoni: nerveless, intuitive, street-smart. Several of the side’s memorable performances were in response to the captain’s conviction: Gautam Gambhir in the number three slot; Praveen Kumar entrusted with the new ball; Piyush Chawla deployed in the finals; Irfan Pathan given the last over in the second final. Fast-tracked into one of modern sport’s most demanding jobs, Dhoni has handled the attendant stresses with aplomb. He was helped in Australia by the presence of Sachin Tendulkar, whose grace under pressure was the catalyst of India’s triumph. The intangible of the great man passing his experience down was absolutely priceless. Rohit Sharma, who is on course to becoming the country’s next high-quality batsman, alluded to how much he had learnt batting with the master, who was in sublime form in the Tests and when it mattered in the tri-series. On the other hand, Australia’s fallibility was mirrored in its captain, Ricky Ponting. He was part of a collective batting failure, produced by fatigue and triggered by the swinging white ball. But India must be credited for forcing Australia into errors. It is only hoped that the tri-series win is utilised as the means for greater accomplishment — and not for excessive self-congratulation and triumphalism that will do no good to the young men in blue.