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Cricket news - Bow down to the indomitable Indian mean machine
India kept everyone guessing at stumps on Day 3 on their follow-on enforcement decision. Ravichandran Ashwin gave little away in the press conference, saying it depended on how well the quicks recover. The anticipation was that India would beef up their lead a little more while their bowlers cooled their heels, and then give them about five sessions to do their job.
But Virat Kohli decided otherwise. He threw his bowlers the challenge to go at a flimsy South African line-up for the second day in a row from the start. They responded by finishing the game early in the third session. Umesh Yadav, the reserve India quick with a match-haul of six wickets, would later reveal that not following-on, as far as he knew, was never in contention.
This is India at home in 2019 - a relentless mean machine that thrives on taking the game forward with an eye on every possible crumb of advantage, even in a format that puts patience and perseverance on a pedestal. That doesn't for once mean that they can't summon either of those two qualities when needed.
The two Tests this series, for instance, had them digging deep at times in conditions that weren't skewed in their favour as expected. Temba Bavuma's admission that the Pune strip resembled pitches from his home, where now the India bowlers had done a far superior job, was a tale of praise in itself.
The quick finish in Pune gave India their 11th successive home series win - an achievement worthy of a round of applause. Or maybe two. To put it in perspective, this is now an all-time record, beating best streaks of 10 series wins - achieved twice by the truly elite Australia sides of the 90s and the noughties. The Taylors and the Waughs and the Warnes and the McGraths and the Pontings decimated teams at home across those two decades and were heralded as the format's true treasure while they were at it.
So what is it that put India on a run like theirs and even saw them better it?
India's 25-1-5 win-loss-draw equation in the 31 Tests across the 11 series victories began back in 2013 against Australia. In the six years, captaincy has changed hands, tactics have received an attacking update, fast bowlers have blossomed in a heap like never before while the ascent of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja hasn't wavered.
When a visibly dejected Faf du Plessis was put through the excruciating task of dwelling on what the real differences were between his side - stuck in a transitional quicksand - and Virat Kohli's in this series, he wasn't lost for words. He talked up consistency, almost begrudgingly. There's been a clockwork-like precision to this Indian side under the Kohli regime, the epicenter of it in his own performances.
At a time when Test cricket's biggest fight is against indifference, it is perhaps natural that results away from home are viewed as the true enhancers of the format and a test of character. Adds up then, that Kohli himself advocated doubling the points for an away victory in the ongoing World Test Championship as a just reward, while du Plessis seconded it.
It's also true that there's so much more scope to trigger the ebbs and flows of the format in an away Test victory, even as Ben Stokes and Jack Leach might vehemently disagree.
But that said, there's really no reason not to parade this Indian side, and hail the monotony of their excellence and, at times, the inevitability of their success. Over this phase of sheer dominance, India have not just raked in results, but also shown gumption to transcend conditions, like they did in Vizag and Pune.
In an attacking move of defiance last year, head coach Ravi Shastri kicked up a storm with his across-the-era comparison of India's touring sides. That debate is going to rage on endlessly, like most other debates that involve comparative analysis of different eras, while the yardstick to judge the brilliance of this Kohli side - brimming with enviable amount of experience - will remain in how they size up on away shores.
While we're rightfully at it, there's no shame though in doffing a hat to India's home achievements and wondering without a definitive answer to the question: Who really is going to stop this run?
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