Like in 2001, India entered another transitional phase in 2005, towards the end of which year Rahul Dravid replaced Sourav Ganguly as the captain of the Test team. Dravid’s appointment came six months after Greg Chappell took over from John Wright as the Indian Cricket Team’s coach in May 2005. Chappell’s appointment was expected to take Indian Cricket to new heights because he was a fantastic cricketer himself during his time, someone who had great knowledge about the game and as an Australian, Chappell was expected to make the national side mentally tough.
But contrary to popular belief and expectations, India regressed massively under Chappell in the Test and ODI formats of the game. Chappell’s tumultuous tenure as Indian Cricket Team’s coach came to an end with the national side’s debacle at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007, which was the last assignment in his two-year contract.
Soon after they returned home from the Caribbean, a beleaguered India were to tour Bangladesh for a three-ODI and two-Test series. Rahul Dravid and co. were wounded tigers eyeing revenge against the team who had sent them packing from the 2007 World Cup. Normal duty, however, resumed for India and the Men in Blue beat Bangladesh 0-2 in the three-ODI series and 0-1 in the two-Test series.
The tour of England in 2007 was the most significant, however, after the world cup debacle. No Indian team had won a Test series in England since 1986 and the disastrous showing at the 2007 World Cup had wounded the pride of the entire nation. I say the entire nation was wounded because such is the attachment the Indian people have with the national cricket team, in particular.
Tour of England 2007
Three-Test Series: England 0-1 India
India, the perennial slow starters they are, particularly on their overseas tours, were very close to being beaten at the Lord’s, where the rain saved Dravid’s men, who had MS Dhoni batting on 76* and had Shanthakumaran Sreesanth giving him company before tea on the final day, from going 1-0 down in the three-Test series. Moments before the players were to take tea, bad light and rain intervened and helped India walk away from the Lord’s with the series still at 0-0. This was nonetheless an absorbing contest which saw the hosts and the visitors fail to make 300 in any of their two innings.
India usually tend to get better as an overseas tour progresses and the tour of England in 2007 proved to be no different.
Having been given a major reprieve at the Home of Cricket, the visitors redeemed themselves and took the game to Michael Vaughan and co. in the second Test at the Trent Bridge in Nottingham.
Zaheer Khan was at the peak of this prowess at this time and in Rudra Pratap Singh and Sreesanth, Zaheer had two bowlers who were nippy and like him, could swing the ball as well, in the air and off the pitch. The Trent Bridge pitch assisted and suited the three Indian seamers, who, favourably, got to bowl first after Dravid won the toss and chose to field. The ball swung prodigiously and the English batsmen had very little clue of which way the ball was going—such was the virtuosity of the three Indian seamers in this particular Test.
Having sent the opposition in, the Indian bowlers made optimum use of the conditions and bowled England out for less than 200. The advantage gained very early on in the Test was not squandered by the Indian batsmen, five of whom registered half-centuries and put India firmly in the driver’s seat. India took a 283-run lead and gave the Englishmen a mountain to climb in their second innings.
England batted better the second time around, but simply had too much to do to deny India a victory. They wiped off the deficit but could only take a 72-run lead by putting up 355 in their second innings. India chased down the target of 73 easily and went 1-0 up in the series. This victory for the visitors, we can definitely say, was set up by their bowlers on the first day and the batsmen drove home the advantage.
As I had mentioned in the first part, Dravid did not press for the victory in the third Test at the Kennington Oval, where, after the two teams had played their first innings, India, having batted first and made 664, had a 319-run lead and they could and should have enforced the follow-on. This Test is to be remembered for Anil Kumble scoring his maiden Test ton (110*) in what was his 118th Test match.
Given the circumstances this Indian team led by Dravid were in, particularly with the senior members of the team under fire for their showings at the ICC World Cup 2007, the 1-0 Test series victory in England in 2007 is one of India’s great Test series victories of the 21st century.
Tour of New Zealand 2009
Three-Test Series: New Zealand 0-1 India
The tour of New Zealand in 2009 came at a little bit of a rosy time for Indian Cricket, albeit two of India’s stalwarts retired in the space of a Test match in 2008. Kumble retired from the game at the end of the third Test of the 2008 Border-Gavaskar Trophy contested in India and Dhoni, who was the captain of the ODI and T20I sides, became the ‘Jumbo’s’ natural successor. Ganguly retired from international cricket at the end of the same series. Although Kumble and Ganguly’s retirements soured the mood a little, Indian Cricket started to move on from the days of ‘fab four’ and it was now in the reliable and efficient hands of Dhoni.
India’s first Test series win in New Zealand came in the year 1968, when, under Mansour Ali Khan Pataudi’s captaincy, India won a four-Test series 3-1. However, after this series victory, the Indians dreaded tours of New Zealand, where their record, on the whole, has been poor. Here’s proof: between the tours in 1968 and 2009, India had won just one Test in New Zealand and that win came in Auckland in January 1976. So, there was basically a 33-year gap between one Test win and another, as the MS Dhoni-led Indian side won the first Test in Hamilton in 2009.
In 2009, India, a little unusually, made a great start to an overseas tour. In the first Test at the Seddon Park, Dhoni won the toss and chose to field. Like in England in 2007, the Indian pace attack spearheaded by Zaheer, who had Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel deputising him this time around, delivered the goods in seamer-friendly conditions. New Zealand, under Daniel Vettori, weren’t a strong side, but they still had the likes of Ross Taylor, Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, etc. while Jesse Ryder, in particular, had a great series with the bat, slamming a double hundred (201) and a 102 in the three-Test series.
The Indian bowlers restricted New Zealand to 279 in the first innings in Hamilton and the batsmen ensured that the advantages of batting second and with only a small total to go ahead of, weren’t let go. Led by Sachin Tendulkar’s masterly 160, India piled on 520 in their first innings and thereby took a 241-run lead. In the second innings, Harbhajan excelled with the ball, taking 6-63 and keeping India in the ascendancy. On the whole, Harbhajan had a great 2009 tour of New Zealand with the ball, as he took 16 wickets in three Tests.
New Zealand’s batting performance in the second innings of the Hamilton Test didn’t improve and they once again made 279, setting India a target of 39 for victory. India won by 10 wickets to go 1-0 up.
Gautam Gambhir starred in the second Test and actually helped India retain their series lead with a marathon-esque innings of 137, which lasted for close to 11 hours (643 minutes, to be precise)! The visitors were asked to follow on after being bowled out for 305 in response to New Zealand’s 619 in the first innings. The Napier pitch barely provided any sort of a purchase for the bowlers, but New Zealand had more than two complete days in which to dismiss India and the visiting batsmen had a psychological battle to overcome. In Gambhir, they had a batsman who soaked up pressure really well and fascinated everyone watching with his rock-solid defence and uncharacteristic patience.
The Napier Test in 2009 was classic Test cricket and few other Tests can come close in terms of the thrills it offered!
The third Test at the Basin Reserve in Wellington provided a great contest too and heavy rain on the final day denied India a golden chance to win the series 2-0.
Nonetheless, over the course of this three-Test series, India had to show character, skill and perform as a unit, to beat New Zealand in their own den in a Test series for the first time in 41 years. For which reason, this is one of India’s great Test series victories of the 21st century.
List of Great Indian Test Series Victories According to Cricfooty:
- 2-1 (3) Home Win vs. Australia in February-March 2001
- 1-2 (3) Away Win vs. Pakistan in March-April 2004
- 0-1 (3) Away Win vs. England in July-August 2007
- 0-1 (3) Away Win vs. New Zealand in March-April 2009
Where does the 4-0 Test series win at home over England rank among these?
When you talk about great Test series wins, not just for India but for most nations, you are looking for the circumstances in which a team won, the environment in which they won and how they played over the course of the series.
From which viewpoint, Virat Kohli’s India were the in-form team going into the five-Test series against the Poms, they were at home, where, since 2001, they have lost only twice, to Australia in 2004 and England in 2012, and Kohli and co. were imperious after the nervy draw at the SCA Stadium in Rajkot. And, needless to say, the standout aspect of India’s 4-0 Test series win was their complete dominance in the Visakhapatnam, Mohali, Mumbai, and Chennai Tests. England did India favours by being sloppy on the field, but the hosts still had to harness the opportunities which came their way and play well for ‘five weeks’ to win 4-0.
The longevity of this Test series, I thought, will favour England, who are accustomed to playing five-Test series and even though they were the underdog before the series against India started, they had time to get used to the prevalent conditions and realise their potential.
But, make no mistake, India were brilliant to keep England on the mat since the draw in Rajkot!
All things considered, I do not think this 4-0 Test series win trumps India’s 2-1 win against the all-conquering Aussies in 2001. Back then, India did not have an identity, were in great turmoil as a cricketing nation and the Ganguly-led men had to show plenty of fight to come back from 0-1 down and 274 runs behind in Kolkata, to turn the tide and go on to win the three-Test series 2-1 in Chennai.
Dear reader, make use of the comments section below and tell us which Indian Test series win, according to you, has been the ‘greatest’ of this century.