NEW DELHI (TIP): “Dhonee. Dhonee. Dhoneee.” The chant reverberated around Feroze Shah Kotla as India closed in on victory within three days in the fourth Test against Australia. After a topsy-turvy day that saw 16 wickets tumble, leaving India 156 to win, it was fittingly the captain who hit the winning runs. It was a historic moment, a first ever 4-0 Test series win for India — and MS Dhoni deserved much of the credit.
His pulverizing double century in the very first Test in Chennai had knocked the fight out of an inexperienced Australian side that never really got back into the contest thereafter. Having set the tone with the bat, Dhoni also exhibited a more animated, proactive style of captaincy, drawing the best out of his young team. Apart from some nervy moments in Delhi, the ploy to produce turning tracks also worked smoothly, unlike the preceding home series against England where India had embarrassingly fallen victim to its own web of spin. Before this series, India’s Test fortunes seemed to be in freefall.
They had lost 0-4 twice in alien conditions in England and Australia, and then yielded a home series to England too. It seemed they had overestimated their own skills, their ability to outplay opponents even on friendly turf. It didn’t help they were in transition, and had lost a host of big names.
It paved the way for some rare soulsearching. The selectors finally dropped big names like Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. A younger crop was given the chance to show their mettle — and seized the opportunity. Murali Vijay finished as the top run-getter on either side, hitting two consecutive tons. Shikhar Dhawan got just one knock but made it count.
Ironically, his record-busting, blazing 187 revived memories of the very man he had replaced, Sehwag. The young lead spinner, R Ashwin, realized where he had erred against England and made quick changes to his technique to achieve consistency.
He ended with 29 wickets, the highest for either side in this series and the seventh-best ever for India. Cheteshwar Pujara continued from where he had left off against England and scored 419 runs at 83.8, reasserting his status as the new bedrock of the side.
Seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar got into the act in Hyderabad and Mohali and picked crucial wickets. Dhoni decided to bring in the wildcard Ravindra Jadeja, who responded with 24 wickets at 17.45 with his left-arm spin, including a first-ever five-wicket haul in Delhi on Sunday which helped seal the match in India’s favour. Jadeja also seemed to have a knack for dismissing regular Aussie skipper Michael Clarke, by far Australia’s best batsman. Jadeja’s impact meant Dhoni could play with five specialist bowlers.
His own form with the bat at No. 6 covered up the deficiencies in the batting lineup. Ashwin talked about how he needed “a kick up the backside” which had helped. The skipper, while maintaining equanimity in victory, stressed on the need for the youngsters to develop “good habits”. “Fortunately I lost all the tosses, which meant we had to bat last in difficult conditions in all the games.
The individuals came forward to perform. We put a lot of emphasis on partnerships. We were able to implement our learning,” he said. “It was an important series for us. There were a few changes in the sides which were good. It was up to the individuals to rise up and do well. They all did, everybody performed.
The openers batted well. I’m very happy with the new players. We have had a tough time, and you tend to learn more when you go through a tough period. We showed character in this series, which is important.” Dhoni admitted he had had to alter his laidback style of captaincy too. “With a young side you have to change a bit. You have to talk to them often, get them into a system where they do things that are supposed to be done. It’s important for them to learn good habits which will remain with them when I’m not there three-four years from now.” Australia may not have been the strongest of teams, and the pitches may have played to India’s advantage. Some of India’s younger crop of players are as yet capable of performing only in certain conditions.
On Sunday, though, it became clear that under Dhoni, they were capable of learning, adapting and implementing changes to the side’s benefit.
As a dejected Shane Watson from the opposition camp said, “We were not able to perform. Ultimately you cannot hide behind anything else.” An important statement has been made: At home, India remain extremely hard to beat. The confidence gained from this 4-0 win will help smoothen the rocky road ahead when this young side tours away from home.
Men Who Mattered
M VIJAY: Highest runscorer on either side in the series, with 430 runs (avg 61.4), including 2 successive tons
CHETESHWAR PUJARA: Second-highest run-getter with 419 runs (avg 83.8).
Hit 204 at Hyderabad. His unbeaten 82 at Delhi, playing with a fractured finger, turned a tricky 4thinnings chase into a stroll
SHIKHAR DHAWAN: Only played 1 innings but his recordbreaking 187 was enough to set up a superb win at Mohali
R ASHWIN: Learned from disappointing series against England to emerge as top wicket-taker against Aus, with 29 wickets.Deservedly declared man of the series
RAVINDRA JADEJA: With 24 wickets, proved surprisingly effective as a bowler. Bagged 7 wicketsincluding 5/58 in the 2nd innings-and scored a feisty 43 at Kotla
MS DHONI: Led with verve and imagination. His 224 in the first Test gave India the upper hand over Aus, which it never let go.