MELBOURNE: India’s cricketers are being hailed a once-in-a-generation side as the World Cup looms, capping off a “perfect finish” to their historic Australia tour with a maiden one-day international bilateral series victory.
The Men in Blue will return home to India triumphant without having lost a Test or limited-overs series — a first on Australian soil.
The Test victory was India’s first in 71 years of trying in Australia, a crowning achievement burnished by another historic first as the visitors clinched the ODI series 2-1 in Melbourne on Friday.
India earlier drew a three-match Twenty20 showdown 1-1 after one match was washed out, ending the tour without losing a series in any format.
“Perfect Finish To Dream Tour”, declared the Mail Today daily on page one Saturday.
“One-Day wonder Down Under”, ran a front-page headline in the weekend edition of the Indian Express newspaper. Other Indian dailies called it a “perfect ending” and “series of firsts”.
Captain Virat Kohli, riding on a high, is already looking ahead to the World Cup in May, confident his men have hit their stride as the coveted ODI cup looms.
“We are feeling confident and balanced as a side with the World Cup in mind,” the skipper said.
“In all the three series we bounced back in different stages, and I think that builds team character ahead, especially when the World Cup is so near. If everyone contributes at different stages, it is then you win a big tournament.”
The India side is being tipped as one of the best in years.
“The teams that used to come here (to Australia), you can’t compare those teams to this (one),” veteran commentator Harsha Bhogle told broadcasters Sony Six after India’s seven-wicket win in the third ODI.
“It has only happened twice in history that a visiting team has won a Test and ODI series in Australia.”
Indian cricketer-turned-commentator Sanjay Manjrekar also praised their “nonchalant” confidence on foreign soil and pointed to “signs that they are setting themselves high standards” going forward.
Special praise was reserved for veteran wicketkeeper-batsman Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who defied critics to smash an unbeaten 87 and register his third straight ODI half-century.
The 37-year-old had been accused by some of losing his lustre as a finisher but was named man of the series after driving India’s tricky 231-run chase at the MCG.
Legendary batsman Sachin Tendulkar praised Dhoni on Twitter, saying he “once again played the role of the anchor beautifully!”.
India now head to New Zealand for a limited-overs series, starting with the first of five ODIs in Napier on January 23.
The 50-over World Cup begins in England on May 30.