Cricket: India’s sustained aggression, hunger to win is commendable
India’s whitewash of Sri Lanka in Tests (3-0) and One Day Internationals, or ODIs (5-0), does not find easy parallels in recent cricket history. Victory in both formats was not just comprehensive, but intimidating. Sri Lanka stood nary a chance as India moved like a juggernaut, quashing the opposition with ruthless efficiency and deep ambition.
True, the Sri Lankans were a beleaguered side right through the Test and ODI series. Injuries and frequent captaincy changes led to loss of stability, and it didn’t help that warring voices from ex-cricketers were providing the surround sound.
But this does not take away from India’s sizzling performances. Not too long ago, Sri Lanka had beaten Virat Kohli’s team in the Champions Trophy, and despite all the internecine problems, they were not exactly a rookie side.
If anything, Sri Lanka are difficult to beat at home. Barring the past 12 months, they have an impressive record on home soil, including a 3-0 Test series whitewash of Australia in mid-2016. While India always held the edge, Sri Lanka’s capitulation was unexpected.
The Tests were one-sided, the ODIs even more startlingly so. The highest score Sri Lanka managed was a modest 238 (in the last match on Sunday), which reflects how strongly they were held in check by the Indian bowlers.
India’s own batsmen made a meal of most targets. Where Sri Lanka appeared to be on top, having cleaned up the Indian top order in one match, they ran into M.S. Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who pulled the chestnuts out of the fire with a resolute partnership.
In sport, adversity can come unannounced. It is the response that reveals not just the depth of talent in a team, but also its character. Having won the series, the players didn’t relax, pressing harder on the accelerator to ensure a whitewash.
There were few failures in the Indian squad. Among batsmen, only K.L. Rahul did not live up to his billing, his Test form fading away dramatically. Shardul Thakur bowled with hostility, but had only one wicket to show in two matches.
Ajinkya Rahane didn’t get too many runs, but since he played only a solitary match, it would be unfair to judge him. If anything, Rahane having to warm the bench for so long highlights the battle for places in the side—for batsmen and bowlers.
The big successes of the ODI series were Rohit Sharma and Kohli with two tons each, but, perhaps more significantly, Dhoni and young Jasprit Bumrah. Dhoni, under some pressure, hit sceptics for a six with fine efforts in front of and behind the wicket.
Bumrah’s rise to spearheading the attack in such a short time is also remarkable. His unorthodox action is not the only thing which confounds batsmen: He is also an astute cricketer, if his subtle variations in pace and line are anything to go by.
From a leadership perspective, Kohli scores maximum points. He has been able not just to harness his resources superbly, but has got them to think like him, which is always the biggest challenge for any captain. The cumulative effect of this was evident in the whitewash.
Any comparison with champion sides in modern cricket (West Indies in the 1970s and 1980s, Australia from 1990-2005) would, however, be premature. Unless India win more consistently overseas, against the best teams, it wouldn’t find credence.
The “greatness” of players too would remain disputable. In terms of attitude, however, the current Indian team exudes a similar hunger to win. That is a terrific quality to have, individually and collectively.
Winning is a habit. It doesn’t necessarily come automatically—at least not to all—but has to be cultivated and pursued. Modern sport allows little scope to be namby-pamby in competition. Sustained aggression—as long as it doesn’t violate the code of the sport or sportsmanship—is not only desirable, but also imperative to win consistently. India are ticking all the boxes currently.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.