Will the new year see India find a way to shed a whole new light on an approach that could see them finally get their act right in away Tests?
Much of what we saw in the first Test at the Centurion had the old-timers shaking their heads and reminiscing the 1990s – India’s batters were in no mood to stay in the middle and the pacers (after raising our spirits over the last five years) crashed back into the ground with a resounding thud. The margin of defeat, an innings and 32 runs, had a story of its own to tell, and in its own way also set the agenda for the second and final Test of the series which begins in Cape Town on Wednesday.
Former England skipper Michael Vaughan made this point on FOX Cricket panel during the Australia-Pakistan second Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on Friday.
“Here’s a question for you: India, in terms of cricket, are they one of the most underachieving sports teams in the world?” Vaughan said. “With all the talent they have, I think they are, yeah. Well, they do not win anything. When was the last time they won something? With all the talent they have, all the skillsets… they won here (Australia) twice, magnificent but the last few World Cups, been nowhere, T20 World Cups, nowhere. You go to South Africa, who are, you know, useful in Test match cricket and to produce a performance like that… I mean, with all the talent they have, and the resources they have, I do not think they win anything.”
Indian fans went after him but the point he was trying to make was valid. India’s standing in world cricket is built on success at home. Take them out of that space and we have a team that very often flatters to deceive. Over the last decade, India has played 40 Tests in South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia (SENA) and won just 10 while crashing to 23 defeats. Four of these wins have come in eight Tests against Australia.
The record speaks of an inability to set a goal and work towards it. Perhaps, at some level, it also tells you how the team seems to have stagnated. India have the money and the talent coming through the ranks but if can’t find a way to harness it all, then what point does it serve?
“We take a lot of pride in playing away from India and winning matches and series and that is always the endeavour,” said Rohit Sharma in a press conference on the eve of the game. “The discussion is always around what we need to do to win the match because a Test is not a game of one-two days or one-two sessions, it is a five-day game and to get the result, you have to work hard and stay patient. And these are the things that the boys know. They are inexperienced, haven’t toured here a lot or played lots of Test cricket but they know how matches can be won; what needs to be done and how… so hopefully, if they can keep these things in mind, we will get the result we want.”
Mostly, the feeling when watching this team in away Tests is one of frustration than reward. After India’s defeat, inside three days, in the first Test, Rohit said: “When you take captaincy, this is what you sign for… won’t always be happy days.”
‘Happy days’ on away tours have been fleeting, and at some level it should make India rethink their approach because what they have is clearly not working. To be fair, India have never been a good touring team but their financial muscle show gives them the power to change that now.
The days between the first and the second Test saw Rohit and Co hard at work. The skipper himself had an extended net session, batting for over an hour. Virat Kohli batted against a left-armer to prepare for Nandre Burger and Shreyas Iyer got the short-ball treatment while the bowlers were working on execution ahead of the game that Rohit believes will be played in conditions similar to Centurion. There isn’t as much grass on the surface but batting won’t be easy.
The first Test ended quickly but it still gave the visitors enough clues on what needs to be done in SA. KL Rahul batted with perseverance and skill in the first innings, Jasprit Bumrah’s spell should have given the others a clue on how to go about things, and Kohli’s second innings knock showed that things weren’t as difficult as the rest of the batters made it out to be.
“Gill, Iyer, Jaiswal haven’t played a lot of international cricket, but they have been around the squad for a number of years now,” said Rohit when asked how the youngsters should get to terms with the conditions given their lack of experience. “If you perform well in these conditions against these kind of teams, you can take your game to another level and that is the positivity that you need to find from games like these… doesn’t matter how many games you have played… when you perform in conditions like this and against an attack like this, you get a lot of confidence going ahead in your career, so that is the positivity that not just them, all of us need to think about.
Rohit added: “At some stage, they all have to be exposed to conditions like this, attacks like these… we all have done it. I am sure they have learned a lot from the first game they have played and tomorrow (Wednesday) will be another opportunity to understand what is required. It is challenging but that’s what Test cricket is all about.”