When India won the three-Test series against Sri Lanka in Delhi this week, it was their ninth consecutive Test series victory. In these nine series, India have played 30 Tests, and lost only two. Only two teams in the history of the game have won nine series in a row: England did it between 1884 and 1892; and Australia equalled that record between 2005 and 2008. England accomplished it in an age in which cricket was almost unrecognisable from the game it is today. And the Australian side that achieved it is one of the truly great teams of the contemporary game. So India’s is a remarkable feat.
It is pertinent to ask whether this India team is one of the truly great ones of the modern era. Not really. Not yet, anyway. Despite having triumphed in 21 of the past 30 Tests, this team does not wear a cloak of invincibility. It does not strike fear into the hearts of the opposition in the manner of era-defining sides such as Clive Lloyd’s West Indies, Vivian Richards’s West Indies, Steven Waugh’s Australia, or Ricky Ponting’s Australia. An aura of invincibility is one of those intangible things in sport: it is hard to define precisely, but we know it when we see it. A truly great team would not have struggled to bowl out Sri Lanka – as India did – on the final day of the Test in Delhi.
In the nine-series-winning streak, there are no famous wins, nothing to compare with Port of Spain in 1976, or Headingley in 1981, or Eden Gardens in 2001, or Adelaide in 2003. One can only play the opposition one has been handed, but the lack of the kind of victory that enters cricketing lore does nothing to burnish this side’s reputation.
India play tough series away from home in 2018. If they can acquit themselves with honour in South Africa, England and Australia, there will be no room for debate. This team would then have staked a claim on greatness.