India created history by emerging as the number one Test team in the world for a fifth consecutive season when the latest rankings were released by the ICC in their annual update on May 13. The team was placed as low as number 7 when Virat Kohli took over the reins from MS Dhoni in 2014. Under his leadership, India have enjoyed their most successful period in Test history dominating the format since 2017.
India first won the ICC Test Championship Mace under the captaincy of Dhoni at the end of the ICC annual year 2010 and went on to retain it in 2011 too. However, then started the downfall and the country suffered two humiliating 4-0 drubbings in England and Australia in 2011 and 2011-12. By the time Kohli was at the helm in 2014, India had slipped to as low as number 7 in the Test Rankings.
India have played 18 Test series (including one-off Test matches) since 2016 and won an incredible 15 of them. There have been just three losses - all away - to South Africa and England in 2018 and New Zealand in 2020. While their domination has been largely built on a stunning home record in this period - they have not lost a single Test series in their own backyard in this time-frame (and lost only two home Test matches in the period), they cannot be accused of being home-track bullies.
India recorded two of their greatest wins in Test cricket beating Australia in their own den in successive away tours in 2018-19 and 2020-21. India have also won a couple of Test series in the Caribbean and swept another series in Sri Lanka during this period.
India won 5 series in a row in this period - from defeating the West Indies 2-0 in a four-match series in the Caribbean to the 2-1 win over Australia at home in the Border Gavaskar Trophy. The period saw three big home series victories - apart from the win against Australia, India hammered New Zealand 3-0 and England 4-0.
Skipper Kohli was at his best against England aggregating 655 runs in the 5 Tests hammering two hundreds and as many fifties in the series. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja again displayed why they were the greatest spin bowling pair at home returning with 28 and 26 wickets in the series.
Cheteshwar Pujara and KL Rahul were the stars with the bat in the victory against Australia - the latter registered six fifties in 7 innings in the series. While Jadeja and Ashwin collectively took 46 wickets in the series the biggest story for India was the return of Umesh Yadav who bagged 17 wickets marking his rise as a major wicket-taking force in Indian conditions.
2017-18 and 2018-19
The highlight during the period 2017-18 was the 3-0 sweep in Sri Lanka while the 2-1 triumph in Australia - their first series win Down Under in history was the stand out achievement in 2018-19. The win saw the emergence of Jasprit Bumrah as one of the premier fast bowlers in the world in international cricket. He was the highest wicket-taker of the series with 21 wickets in just 4 matches. Mohammed Shami played the role of the support act to perfection and bagged 16 wickets in the series.
Pujara was the batsman of the series and amassed 521 runs in 7 innings with three hundreds. His quintessential qualities of patience, occupying the crease for long intervals and excellent temperament were on display through the course of the series.
2019-20 and 2020-21
A 2-0 win in the Caribbean followed by a 3-0 sweep at home against South Africa was the highlight of 2019-20. Bumrah and Ishant Sharma were the stars with the ball for India in the triumph against the West Indies while Rohit Sharma’s spectacular debut as Test opener was the biggest talking point of the brownwash against South Africa - Rohit blasted 529 runs in three Tests at a strike rate of 77.45 with two hundreds and a double hundred in the series.
The stunning 2-1 win in Australia without the services of their skipper, Virat Kohli and most members of the pace quartet for a majority of the series, against all odds and adversity and amid controversies on and off the field during the Covid-19 pandemic against a full strength Australian side in their own backyard was India’s greatest feat in 2020-21 and one of their most glorious moments in history.
The series gave birth to many young superstars for India. Rishabh Pant played two magical innings at the SCG and Brisbane, Shubman Gill laid the platform for a great chase at The Gabba, Washington Sundar emerged as a fine batting all-rounder and Mohammed Siraj returned as the highest wicket-taker in the tournament raising his game in the absence of India’s first-choice pace attack.
The way India fought back from the debacle of Adelaide and 36 All-Out to make a comeback and register a win against a formidable Australia pace attack spoke volumes of their character and temperament.
This quality was again witnessed in its full glory in the home series against England which followed in February 2020. India came back from 0-1 down to record a 2-1 win in the four-match series. Rohit Sharma produced a hundred for the ages when most others failed around him, Pant continued to produce the match-changing knocks, Sundar’s batting grew in class and stature, R Ashwin again highlighted his greatness in home conditions and Axar Patel brilliantly fitted in the shoes of the injured Ravindra Jadeja.
The Outstanding Batsmen & The Rise of the Pace Quartet
Kohli, Pujara and Rohit Sharma have been the three stand out batsmen for India during this period. Kohli has an aggregate of 4496 runs in 50 Tests at an average of 59.94 with 16 hundreds in this time-frame. Pujara has scored 3824 runs in 53 matches at an average of 46.07 with 11 centuries and Rohit 1719 runs - a majority in his new avatar as opener - from 22 Tests at an average of 59.27 with 5 hundreds.
While India has always boasted of great batsmen and quality spinners, it is the emergence of four high quality fast bowlers and their collective rise that has been the main reason for their dominance and stunning record in the last five years. Ashwin and Jadeja continue to run through opposition line-ups at home but unlike before they now have a world class bowling unit which is almost as potent in picking wickets overseas as it is India.
The meteoric rise of the Indian fast bowling quartet of Bumrah, Shami, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma is one of the main reasons for India’s ruthless display in successive wins in Australia. Shami has been India’s best strike bowler in this period (amongst the quartet) with 133 wickets at a strike rate of 47.5. Bumrah’s bowling average of 22.1 places him amongst the best in the world while Ishant Sharma has seen an amazing revival in his Test fortunes from 2018. Umesh Yadav has tasted great success at home in this period with 73 wickets in 21 matches at a strike rate of 46.
Collectively, the bowling average of India’s pace brigade of 23.76 has been the best in the world since 2017.
Australia hold the record for winning the ICC Test Championship Maze for 8 consecutive years between 2002 and 2009. If India continue in the same vein they could very well surpass this in the years to come. The only missing part in this great run for India has been an ICC trophy.
Post June 18-23 in Southampton the picture and journey may truly be complete.