No one can deny that this Indian outfit, led by the charismatic Virat Kohli, is a talented team. But, there comes a point in time where you do want the results to complement the tall claims.
After a narrow 2-1 series defeat in South Africa, India are set to now return from England with another series loss. With one Test to go, England’s win at Southampton means that they lead the series 3-1 now. A positive result in the last Test at The Oval could afford a degree of respectability to the final result but it won’t change the fact that India lost.
The team has managed to be highly competitive, but has fallen short yet again. That India couldn’t close the deal in South Africa (where they were similarly competitive) and England raise questions over the fortitude of the side. Are they as good as we think they are... are they as good as they think they are?
India, once again, showed promise in yet another overseas tour, but champion sides need results to prove superiority.
While both South Africa and England weren’t pushovers in home conditions, they looked beatable.
Several Indian players showed a spark and the ability to make the adjustments in their game, but not many managed to dominate the opposition as champion players do.
In South Africa, India’s batting was over-reliant on Kohli. The problem then was that the rest of the batsmen were not providing support to their skipper. Months later, now in England the problem seems to have persisted. If it was a worry then, it is a full blown epidemic now.
Kohli was once again at his marauding best, with delightful knocks in nearly every innings that he played – 544 runs at an average of 68.00 are evidence of his mastery. However, his fall invariably zaps the confidence from the rest of the batting line-up.
Lack of support for Kohli
The lack of support for the skipper is unenviable. Cheteshwar Pujara (241 runs @ 48.20) and Ajinkya Rahanen (220 runs @ 27.50) had their moments in the series. The former notched up a century and a fifty in the three Tests he’s played so far in the series. The latter has so far scored two half-centuries in four Tests.
Pujara and Rahane do not instill fear through the England ranks. Pujara’s century props up his numbers but he has otherwise been pretty ordinary. Rahane, on the other hand, has shown himself to be incapable of marshalling the lower order. They were always weathering the storm before actually getting the runs ticking. The musical chairs being player with the opening slot now has a comical feel to it. The failure of both Shikhar Dhawan (158 runs @ 26.33, 3 Tests) and KL Rahul (113 runs @ 14.33, 4 Tests) in Southampton further confirmed the need for introspection and perhaps drastic action.
In Hardik Pandya (164 runs @ 23.42, 4 Tests) and Rishabh Pant (43 runs @ 10.75, 2 Tests), India now have a lower-order that might never inspire confidence. Their aggressive approach looks casual at times. While the former has shown evidence that he can buckle down and play to the match situation when required, the latter’s obsession with expansive shots seems naive at the international stage. Maybe their time will, but that time is not now.
To rely on either to shore up the lower order seems like a gamble. To go into every Test with such uncertainty is a scenario that needs to be avoided.
The pace department was the show-stealer for India in this series. They showed tremendous improvement from the South Africa tour, with each bowler adding another gear. Each one of them looked more menacing then they were earlier this year. Ishant Sharma (15 wickets @ 24.13), Mohammed Shami (14 wickets @ 31.42), Umesh Yadav (3 wickets @ 25.33) and then Jasprit Bumrah (11 wickets @ 19.90) in the third and fourth Test were all impressive. Even Hardik Pandya (10 wickets @ 24.70) did his job when Kohli decided to bowl him. Not only were they competing, but were applying the pressure on the opposition.
England were being beaten at their own game as the quartet found swing, seam and bounce in abundance. They never let the English batsmen run away with the game. If not for cameos from England all-rounder Sam Curran in the lower-order, India could have had a different result in this series.
But the visitors lacked the killer blow. In the second innings of the first Test, England were 8 down for 87. The ended up making 180 as India lost by 31 runs. In the second Test, England were 131-5, they went on to make 396-7 before they declared the innings. In the second innings of the third Test which India won, England were 64-2 but they ended up scoring 317. In the fourth Test, England were 86-6 in the first innings and they ended up with 246; in the second innings, they were 122-5, they finished with 271. See the trend?
Maybe, it was the absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The pacer is known to be a great proponent of swing bowling. However, injury ruled him out of the series. While the pace quartet did not let his absence be felt in a big way – they were just unable to finish the job.
Off-spinner R Ashwin should have played a part in cleaning up the lower order, but that did not happen. The tweaker, in fact, was one of the weakest links of the attack. That he injured himself in the third Test only compounded the problems for him and the team. His below-par performance in the final Test only reiterated his ineffectiveness on away tours.
Known for his ability to wreck havoc on turning tracks, Ashwin failed to perform his magic on a roughed up wicket at Southampton. England went onto set India a formidable target which proved too much for the visitors who lost the fourth Test by 60 runs and conceded the series.
It did not augur well for India that Kuldeep Yadav, considered to India’s next best spin option performed woefully in the second Test at Lord’s. The chinaman bowler was all over the place and made little impact in his big opportunity. With Ashwin coming up short, the slot for the overseas spinner is once again up for discussion. Ravindra Jadeja, who was on the field for most of the series as a substitute fielder, remained on the bench through the series is an option, but his recent form in the longest format hasn’t been inspiring.
There is serious need for introspection. A top side like India cannot rely only on players who lack consistency.
India did ring in a lot of changes at the start of the series, but have struggled to find consistent performers. All the players in the side can be match-winners on their day, but aren’t necessarily adept at delivering when their team needs it the most.
Champion sides don’t really struggle in this aspect. If India are to dominate world cricket they need players who can cope with the pressures of overseas tours and deliver consistently.
A tour of Australia awaits this team. Before that a home season that will see West Indies arrive for a short Test series. India are likely to romp to victory. Hopefully the confidence from the victory will hold them in good stead Down Under.
“These one-and-a-half years will define Indian cricket - the tours of South Africa, England and Australia. All I can say is that this will be a better Indian team after the next 18 months,” India coach Ravi Shastri had said ahead of India’s tour of South Africa.
Two overseas series results have come and gone. There’s one left. Another narrow series defeat might just pour cold water on Shastri’s hopes and dreams. India probably wouldn’t want to read the definition after that.