India’s most significant Test wins of the 2010s

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In the last decade, led commandingly by MS Dhoni and later Virat Kohli, the Test team has shown consistent dominance at home and significantly improved its tally overseas.

‘You and whose army?’ Virat Kohli seems to say to his opponents with every dominating performance his side produces. | K.R. Deepak

For the Indian Test team, the 2010s were neatly divided under two captains. Mahendra Singh Dhoni took all and sundry by surprise when he retired from the five-day game in the midst of an Australian tour in December 2014, after which the dynamic Virat Kohli replaced him at the helm of affairs.

Under Dhoni, India was the world’s number one Test side at the turn of the decade, having first reached the summit after its home series win against Sri Lanka in late 2009. However, the next few years marked an era of transition, what with the end of the careers of many notable names that had formed the fulcrum of the team through the 2000s.

In a sense, the passing of the baton from Dhoni to Kohli signalled the ushering of a new dawn. After a fair share of bumps along the way, India has steadily clawed its way back to the top, and is now once again the leading Test outfit in the world, and arguably in a stronger position than it had been ten years ago. Needless to say, India looks well set to reach the final of the inaugural World Test Championship, slated to take place at Lord’s in June 2021.

Long considered to be lions at home and lambs abroad, India has radically refashioned its reputation with some creditable overseas performances in the last ten years. There were major setbacks initially in the first half of the decade, with the biggest ones being back-to-back 4-0 sweeps in England and Australia respectively. But since then, boosted by an ever-improving pace-bowling unit, India has shown that it has the wherewithal to be an all-conditions team.

The likes of Sri Lanka and the West Indies are now being dominated in their own backyard, something which was not the case in the 2000s. While a series win in South Africa remains elusive and one in England has not been recorded since 2007, India broke its Australian duck in 2018-19 by winning its first ever series Down Under. The 2010s saw India play 57 Tests away, winning 19 and losing 25. Of these 25 defeats, 11 came in England alone, from 14 Tests.

At the same time, India’s home game has become more robust than ever. India played 50 home Tests in the 2010s, winning as many as 37 and losing just four. Its only home series defeat in this period was famously at the hands of England in 2012-13 — since that defeat, India has been impregnable on its own turf, as a streak of 12 consecutive series (and only one defeat in 34 Tests, to Australia at Pune in 2016-17) attests.

As India enters a new decade with a view to strengthening its new-found dominance in the Test arena, here is a look back at eight of its most significant Test wins of the 2010s, each of which was a key milestone in building the team’s reputation as a formidable force to be reckoned with, both at home and abroad. A notable mention not on this list (excluded only because the series was lost by then) is the 63-run win in the third Test against South Africa at Johannesburg in 2017-18.

v South Africa, Kolkata, 2009-10 (Second Test)

Newly crowned as the top-ranked Test team, India found itself in a must-win situation at the Eden Gardens if it was to maintain its position and also draw the two-match series — the first Test at Nagpur had ended in an innings defeat, with Dale Steyn producing a reverse-swing masterclass. After the early dismissal of captain Graeme Smith, South Africa rode on a second-wicket stand of 209 between debutant Alviro Petersen (100) and Hashim Amla (114).

However, the Proteas imploded thereafter in the face of Zaheer Khan (4/90) and Harbhajan Singh (3/64), and were restricted to 296. India replied with a powerful batting effort that revolved around two big partnerships. Virender Sehwag, who smote a typically belligerent 165, and Sachin Tendulkar (106) added 229 for the third wicket, but the bigger blow for South Africa was an unbroken seventh-wicket stand of 259 between VVS Laxman (143*) and Dhoni (132).

India duly declared at 643/7 just before stumps on the third day. Bad light and rain attempted to thwart India’s bid, but at 180/7 just after lunch on the final day, Amla (123*) was South Africa’s only hope. The bearded batsman battled hard with the tail, and his stand with last man Morne Morkel consumed nearly 21 overs. However, with just nine balls remaining in the game, Morkel got out leg-before to Harbhajan (5/59), giving India a thrilling victory by an innings and 57 runs.

v Australia, Mohali, 2010-11, (First Test)

This was the first of a two-match series, and resulted in one of the most exciting finishes in recent times. Australia had an opportunity to wrest the Border-Gavaskar Trophy back from India, who had prevailed in the previous edition on home soil two years earlier. Zaheer, who was later named Man of the Match, was the pick of the bowlers with 5/94, but Shane Watson (126), captain Ricky Ponting (71) and wicketkeeper Tim Paine (92) combined to carry the total to 428.

India limited Australia’s lead to just 23, thereby setting the stage for a potential second-innings shootout. Sehwag (59) and Rahul Dravid (77) laid a sound base, before Tendulkar (98) and Suresh Raina (86) added 124 for the fifth wicket to counter a buoyed Mitchell Johnson (5/64). Australia underwent a second-innings collapse, going from 138/3 to 192 all out on the fourth day, with pacemen Zaheer (3/43) and Ishant Sharma (3/34) at the forefront of the attack. India’s target was a tricky 216.

By the end of the day, India had been reduced to 55/4 by Ben Hifenhaus (4/57) and Doug Bollinger (3/32). The procession continued on the fifth day, even as the gritty Laxman (73*) held one end up. He found an ally in Ishant (31), who came in at 124/8 and doggedly defied in a stand of 81. When Pragyan Ojha joined Laxman, India needed an iffy 11. But the last pair held its nerve to secure a stirring one-wicket win for the hosts; the winning runs coming through two leg-byes.

 

v South Africa, Durban, 2010-11 (Second Test)

Following an innings defeat at Centurion, few would have expected India to stay alive in the three-match series. It was inserted on a green pitch at Kingsmead, and despite a promising opening stand of 43 between Sehwag and Murali Vijay, it was bowled out for 205, with Steyn (6/50) being the wrecker-in-chief. Five batsmen crossed 20, but none crossed 38. Though South Africa lost its openers to Zaheer in response, it seemed to be motoring along rather well at 67/2.

But the wheels came off dramatically after Jacques Kallis was run out, and the middle and lower order caved in to provide India with an unlikely and extremely vital lead of 74. While Zaheer finished with 3/36, Harbhajan snared 4/10. South Africa was not going to give up easily, and when it took the fifth second-innings wicket, India was ahead by 167 and the match was well in the balance. Dhoni joined Laxman at this juncture, and the duo raised a 48-run partnership.

When Harbhajan was dismissed soon after Dhoni, India was uncomfortably placed at 148/7. Once again, it was that man Laxman who dropped anchor. He shared in an eighth-wicket stand of 70 with Zaheer, and was last out at 228 for 96 — no one else from either side crossed 40. Chasing 303, South Africa never really got going, and was all out for 215, with S. Sreesanth (3/45) and Zaheer (3/57) starring. This was India’s second win in South Africa, adding to its success at Johannesburg in 2006-07.

v England, Lord’s, 2014 (Second Test)

India’s previous Test tour of England, in the summer of 2011, had ended in a woeful 4-0 blanking. It had won only once in 16 Lord’s Tests coming into this second of a five-match series, had not had a win for over three years in 15 overseas Tests, and was greeted by the greenest surface at the Mecca in a long time. Alastair Cook called correctly and opted to field, and his seamers duly reduced India to 145/7. All the recognised batsmen, barring Ajinkya Rahane, were back in the hutch.

Rahane took it upon himself to salvage the situation and got valuable support from Bhuvneshwar Kumar (36). As these two added 90 for the eighth wicket, Rahane went on to score 103, which was instrumental in bolstering the total to 295. Kumar then bagged 6/82, but Gary Ballance (110) ensured that England gained a lead of 24. With the game on a knife’s edge, Vijay held the top order together with a resolute 95. When he was seventh out, India’s lead was 211.

In what was yet another turning point, Ravindra Jadeja (68) and Kumar (52) added 99 for the eighth wicket at six runs an over to swell the total to 342. Facing a target of 319, England wilted against a charged-up Ishant, who used the short ball to great effect on the way to figures of 7/74. India celebrated a well-deserved win by 95 runs, but its jubilation was short-lived — it lost the next three Tests by heavy margins to lose the rubber 3-1 and surrender the Pataudi Trophy.

v Sri Lanka, Colombo, 2015 (Third Test)

Coming into this series, India had gone over four years without an overseas series win. The first Test at Galle did not help its cause, as the team went down by 63 runs despite having held a first-innings lead of 192. The series was squared at Colombo’s P. Sara Oval with a 278-run win, bringing it down to the decider at the Sinhalese Sports Club. Overlooked for the first two Tests, Cheteshwar Pujara built a fine innings after India, having been inserted, had struggled to 14/2.

Pujara carried his bat for 145*, becoming only the fourth Indian opener to do so in a Test. He steered India out of the woods in the company of Amit Mishra, who scored 59 in an eighth-wicket stand of 104 that improved the total from 180/7 to 312. India’s pacers, spearheaded by Ishant (5/54), reduced Sri Lanka to 47/6 before the lower order dragged the total to 201. Though India had seized the initiative, it began the second innings on a poor note, by slumping to 7/3.

But Rohit Sharma (50), Stuart Binny (49), Mishra (39) and Ravichandran Ashwin (58) saw to it that India maintained its grip. Despite a fighting 110 from captain Angelo Mathews, Sri Lanka were bowled out for 258 in its improbable chase of 386, thanks in the main to Ishant (3/32) and Ashwin (4/69). This was India’s first series victory in the Emerald Isle since 1993-94, and the first time that it had scripted a comeback to win an overseas series after losing the first Test.

v Australia, Bangalore, 2016-17 (Second Test)

A haul of 12/70 from Steve O’Keefe had sent India crashing to a 333-run defeat within three days in the first Test at Pune, and hence, there was a lot at stake as the hosts strove to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. India’s woes continued on the first day, as off-spinner Nathan Lyon captured 8/50, the best figures by a visiting bowler in India. India lost its last five wickets for just 15 runs, to be dismissed for 189, with opener Lokesh Rahul (90) delivering a one-man show.

Matt Renshaw (60) and Shaun Marsh (66) starred to give Australia a lead of 87, even as Jadeja took 6/63 with his left-arm spin. Rahul added another 51 in the second innings, but at 120/4, Australia were in control of the proceedings. Pujara (92) and Rahane (52) got together at this point, and joined forces for a doughty fifth-wicket partnership worth 118 to rein in Australia’s charge. Led by pacer Josh Hazlewood (6/67), the bowlers bounced back to keep India’s total down to 274.

Australia’s target was 188, and there were still five sessions left. But it was always going to be a difficult proposition on a highly testing pitch, and so it proved. Ashwin became the fourth bowler in the game to take at least six wickets in an innings, as he dismantled the Australian line-up en route to 6/41. No batsman reached 30, with captain Steve Smith’s 28 being the highest score. The end was tame — the last six wickets fell for 11 to seal a series-levelling 75-run win for India.

 

v Australia, Adelaide, 2018-19 (First Test)

Eleven months earlier, an opportunity for India to win a series in South Africa had gone a-begging, after which a 4-1 loss in England gave the indication that it had ground to cover as far as winning in the ‘SENA’ (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) countries was concerned. Yet, it had its best chance to win in Australia, as the hosts were without their batting pillars Smith and David Warner, both of whom were serving bans due to ball-tampering.

The start was far from ideal, as India was left reeling at 41/4 after having decided to bat. But Pujara was in his element, and not for the first time, emerged as the man for the crisis. In compiling a sedate 123, he made almost half of the eventual total of 250, batting expertly with the tail to lead a recovery from 127/6. Australia too fell to 127/6 against Ashwin and the pace troika of Ishant, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami, before Travis Head (72) helped propel the total to 235.

India started much more solidly in its second attempt, with openers Rahul (44) and Vijay putting on an assured 63. Pujara (71) and Rahane (70) continued the good work, before the last five wickets fell for only 25 runs. Australia had to chase down 323, and was once again crippled by a combined bowling effort from the Indians. Their lower order showed fight after the score had stuttered to 156/6, but India held on to complete a 31-run win just before tea on the final day.

v Australia, Melbourne, 2018-19 (Third Test)

With Australia having levelled the series with a 146-run win at the new Optus Stadium in Perth, there was all to play for in the Boxing Day Test. Debutant opener Mayank Agarwal underlined his prowess with a confident 76, before Pujara (106) and Kohli (76) consolidated through a third-wicket stand of 170 that enabled a declaration at 443/7 late on the second day. The third day belonged to Bumrah, who rendered the Australian batsmen clueless in the course of taking 6/33.

Bumrah’s return condemned Australia to 151, thus delivering a massive blow to its hopes of regaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Australia’s own pace ace Pat Cummins (6/27) gave the crowd something to cheer about after Kohli decided against imposing the follow-on, as the Indian line-up was reduced to 44/5. However, Agarwal (42) impressed again, before the Indian captain declared at 106/8. Australia stared at a target of 399, and again, its top order came a cropper.

Bumrah finished with 3/53 to give himself match figures of 9/86 — the best by an Indian fast bowler in Australia — while Jadeja did his bit with 3/82, as the Australians were bowled out for 261 (Cummins top-scoring with 63) early on the fifth day. With the Border-Gavaskar Trophy safe in its custody, India further deflated Australia by piling up a mammoth 622/7 in the drawn final Test at Sydney, which confirmed a long-awaited and historic series triumph by a margin of 2-1.

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