Barely a month ago, the Indian cricketers were grabbing sporting headlines. Every one talked about Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni, Ravichandran Ashwin and of course the new man Mohammad Shami. They played some fabulous cricket at home in first beating the visiting Australians and then totally outplayed the visiting West Indies.
Cricket Australia was heavily criticized for sending a team to India for one T20 game and seven ODIs under George Bailey. Among others, Ian Chappell had been most critical in mentioning that the Indian tour for shorter versions of the game would prove detrimental to Australia’s preparation for the upcoming Ashes series with England at home. But cricket authorities persisted with the itinerary. Though the Australians were beaten, they produced a fine batting performance. From India’s viewpoint, every top order batsman played consistently and won the series for their country.
Next the West Indies came to India but the teams, led by Sammy in tests and Bravo in the ODIs, were totally decimated. They lost the test series 0-2, with both games ending in less than three days. And then except for one face-saving game, they lost the ODI series as well.
Going by the state of Indian, Australian and West Indian cricket in recent times, India appeared invincible, Australians were circumspect as to their capability in the soon-to-follow Ashes series with England, and West Indians appeared as history’ worst touring cricketers from the Caribbean.
But look what happened in a space of just 30 days!
It began with the first Ashes test in Brisbane. Columnists vied with one another in writing how Australia would cope against the strong English side. The 3-0 series loss to England last summer was firmly etched in the memory. But surprisingly, when Australians went into the first test, they didn’t need any special tricks in inflicting a 381 runs defeat on England. Then came another convincing victory at Adelaide oval and Australia was up 2-0 in the five-match series. Australians realized their true batting potential as Captain Clarke scored two centuries in two tests and Warner, Haddin and others also made useful scores. But the one man, who played a heroic role, was Mitchell Johnson. He laid England low by his accurate bowling in both games, in addition to making notable contribution with the bat. He rightfully claimed back-to-back man-of-the-match awards. Australians began with an upper hand in the Perth test with 385 in the first innings with century from Steven Smith. Such transformation in Australian cricket from the tags of laggards to the current form could not have been predicted a fortnight ago.
West Indies traveled to New-Zealand after losing the test and ODI series to India. At Dunedin’s first test, New-Zealanders ripped apart West Indian bowling and mounted a massive 609/9 decl. In reply, West Indians withered at 213. With New Zealand victory clearly on cards, West Indies created an epic miracle by scoring 507 in their second outing. Bravo’s double century and useful scores by others helped West Indies deny a victory to the Kiwis. Unfortunately, the rejuvenated West Indies team could not sustain the tempo in Wellington’s second test where, they lost by an innings. Trent Boult’s accurate fast bowling in both innings did the trick. Boult returned with match figures of 10/80.
The worst turnaround in performance came from Indians. On tour to South Africa, they lost the ODI series 3-0 in total surrender. India’ bowling has always been their weak point and their exalted position, in the last few months, was made possible only by their top order batsmen. On the bouncy South African pitches, India’s batting looked pedestrian and their bowlers got whipped to the hilt. It may be recalled that the Australians who lost to India, had also enjoyed ripping apart every Indian bowler and produced great batting performance despite their loss to India. Indian bowlers are short on imagination and they make even ordinary batsmen look great against them. In South Africa, seasoned campaigners like; Amla, De Villiers and Kallis became difficult to bowl against. But the man, who stole everyone’s heart, was De Kock. It is not often that you see an opening batsmen score three consecutive ODI centuries. De Kock did just that and with other South African batsmen also coming good, Indians were comprehensively outplayed. With Dhawan Sharma and Kohli failing in all matches, there was no pressure on South African bowlers, who are world-class anyway.
The last one month has been eventful from viewpoints of India and Australia in different ways. Australians have already redeemed themselves, but Indians have fallen several notches from their high position. They go to the test series with the same handicap after their miserable ODI performance. Excessive reliance on just the batting strength won’t get India anywhere. West Indies showed some fighting spirit at Dunedin test but could not convert it to pose any further challenge to New Zealand.