What Is Ailing This Indian Test Team?

“With the tours of South Africa, Australia and England coming up, all I can say this will be better cricket team after those 18 months,”  Ravi Shastri said on eve of India’s tour to South Africa on December 27th, 2017.

Close to 9 months have passed and where has team India reached? As a white-ball team, they’ve been really good but the head coach’s statement was largely in context to Test cricket. In these 9 months, India have played two tough series in South Africa and England.

However, the results haven’t quite gone India’s way. 8 Test matches, 2 wins, 6 losses! These are not numbers Virat Kohli, Ravi Shastri or the Indian fans expected, given the promise and potential.

Make no mistake, this Indian Test team has threatened to win series, they’ve shown immense promise, the way they’ve played has made sure the expectations are a lot higher, but the results just haven’t come. This Indian team has pushed both South Africa and England to their limits, but deep inside, they will know that they have lost golden opportunities to win series outside Asia.

So, what’s ailing this team? Why haven’t they produced the results that everyone expected them to? They did show glimpses of why they are the No. 1 Test team but they didn’t nail it.

One-man army with the bat?

This year was supposed to be India’s biggest Test with the bat. They had two tough oppositions and tough conditions to counter. For the first time in quite a while, India had the bowling to trouble the opposition and they did just that.

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However, the batsmen, barring Virat Kohli failed to stand up. In fact, there’s daylight between Kohli and the rest. The Indian skipper has scored 879 runs in 8 Test matches (16 innings) which includes 3 hundreds and 4 fifties. He has carried this batting line-up on his shoulders and has tried to put his team into the box seat. However, the other batsmen have failed to live up to expectations. The second best Indian batsman of runs this year is Cheteshwar Pujara (413 runs) and he hasn’t scored even half the runs of what Kohli has. This speaks volumes of how much this Indian batting line-up has depended on Kohli.

Selection blunders

Under Virat Kohli, there’s always been constant chopping and changing, be it forced or tactical. It was only in Southampton that India went in with an unchanged XI and it was for the first time in 38 Test matches (Kohli’s captaincy), that India didn’t make any changes.

But all that’s aside, there have been quite a few selection blunders this year. Ajinkya Rahane who is regarded as an overseas specialist was dropped for the first two Tests in South Africa. Cheteshwar Pujara was dropped for the first Test in England (Edgbaston). India played two spinners at Lord’s under overcast skies and Kuldeep Yadav looked undercooked with the red ball. Ravichandran Ashwin played the fourth Test at Southampton despite battling a hip injury.

All these cost India dearly and they paid a heavy price. Virat Kohli and the Indian team-management have not had the best time when it comes to team selection.

Opening woes

In 16 innings India have batted this year in South Africa and England, they’ve had just 3 50+ opening stands. Two of which came at Trent Bridge (Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul) and the other came at Edgbaston (Dhawan and Murali Vijay). India won the Test match at Trent Bridge and at Edgbaston they came really close.

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In fact, not only opening partnerships, but also individually the openers have struggled. Before Rahul got the magnificent ton in the final innings of the fifth Test at the Oval, the last time an Indian opener scored 50 or more in the SENA countries was in January 2015.

Murali Vijay has already faced the axe and Dhawan might have the same fate when West Indies tour India. The team management will definitely be looking at options. For now, KL Rahul has shown what he is capable of and has cemented his spot. But he might well have a new partner come the Windies series at home.

Who is India’s lead spinner now? Jadeja or Ashwin?

Ravichandran Ashwin bowled beautifully at Edgbaston and it seemed like he was all set to correct his overseas numbers. However, as the series went along, he couldn’t replicate his good start. Yes, he was injured as well and also played through it in a couple of games. But his performance at Southampton was under-par, given the conditions.

Ravindra Jadeja came in and showed that he could well be more than handy. He picked up 7 wickets and also scored a vital 86. So, now the debate is who is India’s lead spinner? Will Jadeja start ahead of Ashwin in Australia?

Batting fourth

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Bowlers (fast bowlers in particular) have time and again step up the game for India this year. They did it in South Africa and once again in England. However, the batsmen just haven’t been able to score runs and chase down scores in the fourth innings. 208 (Cape Town), 194 (Edgbaston) and 245 (Southampton) are the totals that they failed to hunt down this year.

The story has been the same every time. India have been two down quickly and then Kohli has come in and tried to stabilize things. However, once he departs, the chase goes downhill and India inevitably lose the Test match. This fourth innings falters have cost India not only Test matches but also the series.

Winning key moments

“We did not take our opportunities.” These were Virat Kohli’s words after India lost the series against England. This year has been a case of missed opportunities for this India Test team. They’ve failed to nail down the advantage.

There were 3 big occasions in this England series where they failed to capitalize. England were 87/7 in the second innings of the first Test at Edgbaston. They were 86/6 at Southampton in the first innings and in the same Test they were 142/2 with the bat (chasing 246 in the first innings). They missed similar opportunities in South Africa as well.

This Indian Test team has fought really hard and it’s been exciting and enthralling to watch the two series in South Africa and England. But as Virat Kohli said in the press conference, they couldn’t create pressure for long durations and maybe that cost both series’.

There are positives for India as they move ahead and with an important tour to Australia coming in a couple of months’ time, they will hope to build on the positives and correct the wrongs.

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