Test series abroad: the same dismal story

Ajinkya Rahane ... find of the year.-AP

Indian cricket is still searching for players strong enough to improve its fortunes overseas, notwithstanding the win at Lord’s, writes Vijay Lokapally.

It looked all familiar when India played at home and travelled to New Zealand and England. Good at home but mediocre overseas. The team made little gains even though its one-day record proved better than the Test match results.

The 1-3 rout in England after the Test series loss (1-0) in New Zealand at the start of the year illustrated the lack of substance in Indian cricket. The 0-2 defeat in the ODIs in New Zealand was followed by a 3-1 triumph in England. But England is not a good one-day side anyway. India, with Virat Kohli in charge, looked an average side at the Asia Cup held in Bangladesh. The team lost to Sri Lanka and Pakistan, both contests being decided in the last over, and did not figure in the final.

India, however, won a meaningless away ODI series against Bangladesh and beat Sri Lanka convincingly at home. The West Indies team, which toured India, pulled out of the tour midway. It was a shocking display of indiscipline by the players.

There was some individual brilliance, in England, from Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. But overall it was a mediocre show and the memories of the 2011 debacle — when India lost all the four Tests in England — came to one’s mind.

Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni described it as a process even though he took a critical view of India’s capitulation in England. “We never really competed in this series. We’ve lost a lot of confidence over the five-Test series and it is disappointing. But there will be many experiences which the youngsters will learn from; not too many have played Tests away from home and hopefully they can take that into the future. Right from the start, our batsmen never really performed and the lower order helped out. That blurred the performance of the top order; just scoring 150-60 runs will not put pressure on the home team,” he said. The English conditions presented plenty of challenge to the Indian team. The expectations were huge, especially from batsmen like Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, but both came a cropper. Pujara’s technique hardly raised hopes and Kohli slipped from a high pedestal before recovering to excel in Australia towards the end of the year.

The much-talked about Pujara aggregated 222 runs in 10 innings. Kohli was an embarrassment. For all his reputation of being a solid player in all conditions, his contribution was 134 in 10 innings. His repeated dismissals to edges behind the stumps only cast a doubt on his ability to deal with the seaming and swinging deliveries. When he encountered bounce in Australia, he looked comfortable and made hundreds in each innings at Adelaide, a performance that once again convinced us of his calibre. But the England tour was a nightmare for one of India’s finest batsmen in contemporary cricket.

Vijay was outstanding in England. His technical adjustments, playing the ball late and his prowess at leaving the ball, helped him to grow as the tour progressed. He had shown signs of good form early and finished as the highest run-getter with 402 to his credit, an improvement after his failure in New Zealand. Vijay is doing well in Australia too.

Rahane was touted as the batsman to rely upon. His 118 at Wellington was a precursor to his form and the 103 at Lord’s, where India won, was just the kind of performance that one expected from this talented Mumbai stroke-maker. Rahane was the find of the year for India, the best batsman in terms of flair, technique and consistency. He was a sharp contrast to Shikhar Dhawan, who proved a disaster with his poor technique, despite a century in New Zealand. In comparison, Brendon McCullum pummelled the Indian attack to the tune of 535 runs in four innings, including a 302 at Wellington.

Among the consistent performers was Ishant Sharma, who finished with two six-wicket hauls in New Zealand and a match-winning seven for 74 at Lord’s that finally bore the stamp of his ability. An over-worked Bhuvneshwar Kumar had a few decent performances along with Mohammad Shami. But both were well below expectations.

The decline of Zaheer Khan was a sore point. He picked up five wickets against New Zealand at Wellington, but conceded 170 runs and this convinced the National selectors and Dhoni that the veteran seamer was well past his prime. It is another matter that Zaheer entertained hopes of a comeback. The ease with which the New Zealand batsmen handled him showed his decline.

The fading away of Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir, Ashish Nehra, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh indicated the new course that Indian cricket has taken. The emphasis on youth is well planned as India will be playing most of its cricket at home over the next 2-3 years.

The selection of leg-spinner Karn Sharma for the Australian tour was a step in that direction. But it seemed harsh when it came to Amit Mishra, who has never been given a fair and long run to establish himself. Strange are the ways of Indian team-management which kept R. Ashwin out of the 11 when not playing at home. India paid the price for not including Ashwin in the Adelaide Test, where Nathan Lyon bowled Australia to victory by exploiting the ‘rough’.

Indian cricket is still searching for players strong enough to improve its fortunes overseas, notwithstanding the win at Lord’s. The loss at Adelaide and Brisbane showed that the team lacked players and also the maturity to adapt. The bowling department did not have enough fire power.

The batting depended on Rahane and Vijay. Dhawan seems to be an over-rated batsman. Dhawan and Pujara faltered when challenged with testing conditions. These two were the biggest letdowns for the team. Losses in New Zealand and England only revived memories of the days when India failed consistently away from home.