Alastair Cook and Haseeb Hameed cussedly saw off 50 of the 150 overs England needed to bat out to save the Visakhapatnam Test of 2016-17
. England went into the final day needing to bat out 90 overs with eight wickets in hand. An hour of intense interrogation of technique and luck later, England were two wickets poorer and still looking at having to bat out another 90 overs, or possibly more, because India had bowled 21 overs in that one hour. And there wasn’t a cloud in sight.
Just imagine how dispiriting it can be to take a brief break after 21 overs of breathless concentration and application, of trying to keep out two of the greatest spinners of all time, and finding out you have actually not moved anywhere in terms of bringing down your target. That’s Test cricket in India. Or, to be more precise, just one hour of Test cricket in India.
To travel to India and win a Test series is possibly the toughest challenge in competitive sport. In cricket it definitely is. It’s easier to win an ODI World Cup. There have been three of them since the last time a visiting team won a Test series in India. It’s easier to win a World Test Championship: the two WTC champions have not even come close to winning in India in their championship cycles.
It has been more than 11 years since India lost a Test series at home, a period during which Australia have lost three at home, England two, New Zealand two and South Africa four. India’s domination has gone deeper than just winning series. There have been zero drawn series over this period, and only one has gone into its final Test still alive: against Australia in 2016-17, at the deep end of a long, exhausting season for India. In more than 11 years, India have lost just three home Tests, achieving a win-loss ratio of 12
nearly twice that of the next-best home team in this period, Australia.
This dominance is primarily down to two all-timers. It seems like an age ago when we questioned the future of India’s spin bowling in the aftermath of India’s last series defeat at home, against England in 2012-13. R Ashwin
kept getting cut frequently, averaging 53 in that series. Ravindra Jadeja
had just made his debut as a batting allrounder at No. 6. These were spinners who had already made themselves names in the IPL. We worried who would carry India’s proud spin legacy forward.
More than a decade later, we are looking at two of Indian cricket’s greatest match-winners, who have shown the craft, the fitness, the longevity and the hunger for excellence to make India the most formidable force at home in the whole of Test history. Captains have changed – three full-time ones – and coaches – four of them – have come and gone, but these two have remained the constants.
Forty of the 49 Ashwin-Jadeja Tests have come at home. In these matches a wicket has cost India
nearly 19 runs less than it has the opposition
. That’s only a little over half the story. The real cheat code is for bowlers of this ability to have averaged nearly 40 and 22
with the bat in these Tests, on consistently testing, result-oriented surfaces.
Oppositions have sometimes managed to compete to the extent of having India four or five down at a similar score to theirs, but that’s when the worms almost always start diverging. India’s spinners maintain the intensity for longer with the ball, and they make more runs with the bat.
There have been duos more prolific (Vaas and Murali with 895 wickets together
), more versatile (McGrath and Warne with 1001
), more storied (Wasim and Waqar with 559
), more intimidating (Ambrose and Walsh with 762
), or more enduring (Broad and Anderson with 1039
), but none of them have featured two allrounders helping free up an extra bowling position. Ashwin and Jadeja have been so good it should be illegal.
It can be argued that these two have been so good that at least three of the countries they travel to have started preparing pitches that eliminate their whole discipline of bowling. In the recently concluded series in South Africa, the hosts didn’t bowl a single delivery of spin. New Zealand has historically been a tough place for spinners, and England is moving more and more towards pitches that hardly need spinners, especially when India are visiting.
Because India have a good fast-bowling attack to go with these two great spinners, the pitches in India don’t eliminate the fast bowlers as drastically. Nearly a third
of the 852 wickets India have taken at home during this dominant period belong to fast bowlers. No other venue offers so much to its team’s weaker suit.
Weaker they might be compared to the spinners, but India’s fast bowlers have been far superior to the visiting pacers in these conditions. If India’s spinners
have been roughly 20 runs per wicket better than those of the visitors
the fast bowlers are not far behind
with a difference of 17 runs per wicket
. This is what happened when, for once, Australia’s Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe matched India’s spinners in 2016-17. The fast bowlers proved to be the difference.
We must celebrate and cherish this dominance because not long from now a team will come to India with two exceptional spinners and a sturdy pace attack, and will catch the hosts in transition and put an end to the greatest series-winning streak at home.
There are already signs that the dominance is waning. India last clean-swept a series of more than two Tests back in 2019. They have lost two Tests over their last four home series, after going 12 series with just one Test defeat. They registered their narrowest win since 2013 – even if it was by six wickets – last year. In the last home series, the unimaginable happened when they won a toss on a square turner and still lost the Test.
The bowlers England bring to India this season don’t have the pedigree that Australia’s did in 2022-23, but their new style of batting might pose a challenge to a great duo that is showing signs of wear and tear. Bangladesh and New Zealand will visit later in the year. India cannot take this year for granted, but we will have seen some enthralling cricket if they have stretched their series-winning streak at home to 19 by the end of it.