Post Galle: A Cricket Season of Optimism
The 2017 – 18 season which has just started presents a major challenge for Virat Kohli and his boys. Having made a clean sweep of the contests at home during the previous season the Indian team has the opportunity to show that they can win Tests abroad too.
The home and away record has always been an issue with Indian sides over the years. Tigers at home and lambs abroad is the general refrain and there is much truth to it. That is why the decade 2001 – 2011 is considered the greatest in Indian cricket for rhe team not only won Tests but also series abroad.
It is a matter of concern that India have not won a Test series in Australia or South Africa. India’s first series in Australia was way back in 1947-48 and the best they have done is to come back with a level contest on three occasions. In South Africa where they played their first series in 1992-93 India have lost every series save one which they drew. India’s best record against the major countries abroad has come against England (three series wins) and West Indies (four series victories). Too much need not be read into the latter given the weakness of the Caribbean side during the last decade.
Kohli and his men as I said, have the opportunity to set the record straight during the next few months when they play a number of Tests starting with the ongoing contest in Sri Lanka. Even when discussing the away record of the Indians the more discerning critics prefer to examine the record outside the sub continent. They reckon that conditions in the four sub continental countries are roughly similar and so the real test is when they play in South Africa and New Zealand, England and Australia. And as it has been proved Indian sides have generally found the going tough in these countries.
Ignoring the past and taking into account only the very recent contests India have lost the last two Test series in England, have come a cropper in Australia on the last three occasions, won a series in New Zealand in 2009 for the first time in 41 years only to lose the next one a few years later and as already pointed out have repeatedly failed in South Africa.
So does the present squad have it in them to emulate their predecessors who scripted the most glorious phase in Indian cricket during the first decade of the new millennium? I for one believe they can.
The first thing going for them is their recent record. Starting with the series in the West Indies in June last year and ending with the series against Australia in March this year the team played 17 Tests winning 12 and losing just one. Including the one-off Test against Bangladesh they won every series. Indeed starting from the home contest against South Africa in 2015 India have won six straight rubbers and this includes a run of 19 Tests without defeat till the first Test against Australia at Pune a loss they took in their stride on the way to completing a 2-1 victory in the four-match series.
The detractors will point out that the majority of the victories were at home and the away win in the Caribbean is no big deal given the weakness of West Indian cricket. But even at home a comprehensive win over South Africa, a clean sweep against New Zealand and defeating England in four of five Tests besides the triumph over Australia are feats that cannot be just shrugged aside.
Indeed this team gives every impression that it can perform creditably away too and one has to agree with Kohli who at the end of the series against Australia was of the view that India have the arsenal to win matches abroad. After all even at home it performed admirably on different surfaces. It has a well settled look, the batting and bowling is working well in unison and the bench strength is strong. It must not be forgotten that they registered the victory over Australia with Kohli hardly making any contribution and in fact the deciding Test was won despite the Indian captain and the best batsman being unavailable.
There is every reason to be optimistic about the immediate future and this also stems from the fact that India is the No 1 ranked Test team. The Indian team have it in them to stay longer at the top than the last time they enjoyed the exalted status from 2009 to 2011.
In the first place they have a leader of the times in Kohli. He is the aggressive, no-nonsense type and fully enjoys the confidence of his teammates. Temperamentally there is room for improvement but tactically he is already astute with uncannily right bowling changes and field placements. Leading from the front comes naturally to him and his non-show against Australia can be taken as an aberration.
The batting revolves around Kohli, Cheteswar Pujara, Lokesh Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. Wriddhiman Saha, Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja make a formidable combination in the middle and late order and there are a number of claimants among the bench strength and these include the likes of Hardik Pandya, Karun Nair, Shreyas Iyer and Dinesh Kartik
There is nothing to worry on the pace bowling front with the quartet of Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami around and ready to excel on the pacier and bouncier pitches generally available abroad having performed admirably on Indian wickets. But the main bowling hopes will still centre round the spin duo of Jadeja and Ashwin.
For some time now the off spinner has been breaking world records but Jadeja has caught up with him in the wicket taking act and last season it was clear that he had made rapid strides as a bowler besides adding his mite with the bat. The fact that both he and Ashwin are genuine all rounders gives the Indian team the luxury of batting up to No 9. Kuldeep Yadav was a bit of a discovery though one feels his role will be rather limited with the enormous success of Jadeja and Ashwin. The unusual mode of his bowling however makes him an exciting prospect.
Overall then there is every reason to believe that the Indian team will perform admirably during the new season as far as Test cricket is concerned and cement their place at the top of the ICC rankings. They have made an impressive beginning with their emphatic victory at Galle; now to continue the good work.