Since the 2007-08 series against Australia, India have won the first Test of an away series just three times in 16 attempts – twice against the West Indies and once against New Zealand. Perhaps more alarmingly, there have been just two draws in the same time period as against 11 losses.
It might be dangerous to read too much into these numbers but the simplest conclusion one can draw from it is that India do not begin away series’ well and once that does happen, the side is often trapped into playing catch-up instead of playing its natural brand of aggressive cricket.
These statistics are something Virat Kohli himself must be aware of. The Indian skipper likes a good chase but chasing in the short formats is very different from chasing in a Test series.
In the last few series’, India have often botched up the preparation and that has meant they have gone into the first Test on the back foot, a little tentative and unsure. But now Kohli is hoping his side can change that
“We do not want to start tentatively, we all want to express ourselves, go out there and be positive. Not meaning that we are going to play rash shots or be all over the place with the ball, but just in our heads — wanting to bring our A game in the first game itself and try to to lay a good foundation for us as the series goes on,” said Kohli in the pre-match press conference.
“We don’t want to wait to figure out what the conditions are or the pitch, we got to read it early and alter our games accordingly, which we failed to do on our last two tours. When we did it we have won games, but we’ll have to do it for longer periods to win a series which is our goal. We don’t want to be a side that plays exciting cricket in one Test match, we want to be consistent and for that we need to adapt quicker than we have done in the past,” the Indian skipper further added.
And adapting quickly is the key here. Once you get your nose ahead, the opposition needs to think differently and that alone can count as a big win against a home team.
The table below shows how India has done in the first Test of an away series since the Australia tour of 1999-2000. It makes for interesting reading:
India in the first Test of an away series
|1999-2000 Australia v. India||Adelaide Oval||Australia won by 285 runs|
|2000-2001 Zimbabwe v. India||Queens Sports Club||India won by 8 wickets|
|2001-2002 Sri Lanka v. India||Galle International Stadium||Sri Lanka won by 10 wickets|
|2001-2002 South Africa v. India||Mangaung Oval||South Africa won by 9 wickets|
|2001-2002 West Indies v. India||Bourda||Match Drawn|
|2002 England v. India||Lord's||England won by 170 runs|
|2003-2004 Australia v. India||Brisbane Cricket Ground||Match Drawn|
|2003-2004 Pakistan v. India||Multan Cricket Stadium||India won by an innings and 52 runs|
|2004-2005 Bangladesh v. India||Bangabandhu National Stadium||India won by an innings and 140 runs|
|2005-2006 Zimbabwe v. India||Queens Sports Club||India won by an innings and 90 runs|
|2005-2006 Pakistan v. India||Gaddafi Stadium||Match Drawn|
|2005-2006 West Indies v. India||Antigua Recreation Ground||Match Drawn|
|2006-2007 South Africa v. India||New Wanderers Stadium||India won by 123 runs|
|2007 England v. India||Lord's||Match Drawn|
|2007-2008 Australia v. India||Melbourne Cricket Ground||Australia won by 337 runs|
|2008-2009 Sri Lanka v. India||Sinhalese Sports Club Ground||Sri Lanka won by an inngs and 239 runs|
|2008-2009 New Zealand v. India||Seddon Park||India won by 10 wickets|
|2010-2011 Sri Lanka v. India||Galle International Stadium||Sri Lanka won by 10 wickets|
|2010-2011 South Africa v. India||SuperSport Park||SA won by an inngs and 25 runs|
|2010-2011 West Indies v. India||Sabina Park||India won by 63 runs|
|2011 England v. India||Lord's||England won by 196 runs|
|2011-2012 Australia v. India||Melbourne Cricket Ground||Australia won by 122 runs|
|2013-2014 South Africa v. India||New Wanderers Stadium||Match Drawn|
|2013-2014 New Zealand v. India||Eden Park||New Zealand won by 40 runs|
|2014 England v. India||Trent Bridge||Match Drawn|
|2014-2015 Australia v. India||Adelaide Oval||Australia won by 48 runs|
|2015-2016 Sri Lanka v. India||Galle International Stadium||Sri Lanka won by 63 runs|
|2016-2017 West Indies v. India||Sir Vivian Richards Stadium||India won by an innings and 92 runs|
|2017-2018 South Africa v. India||Newlands||South Africa won by 72 runs|
|2018 England v. India||Edgbaston||England won by 31 runs|
When one goes through the data, three things emerge.
One, India have never exactly managed to start a series well and that has played a huge part in their poor away record. A loss puts the team under pressure and forces them into a reactive space. It also points to inadequate preparation. Experts have been calling for the team to play more tour games before the first Test but India seldom does that because of its cramped schedule.
Chetan Chauhan, who was India’s manager on the 2007-08 Australia tour and numerous other tours as well, had made the point in 2008 after the infamous ‘Monkeygate’ series.
“This has been a problem area for us for a long time and unfortunately we have not found any solutions to it. We always manage to lose the first Test and I feel it’s got to do with our psyche of playing it safe. It happened with us in 1981 and it has happened on this tour when we lost the first Test in Melbourne inside four days. I feel one solution is to get two to three practice games before the first Test and then another one after the second,” he had said.
Rings a bell or two, doesn’t it?
Two, given India’s away history an astonishing thing happened between the 2003-04 tour of Australia and the 2007 tour of England. India went eight tours without losing the opening Test. They won 4 matches and drew the other four. The 2003-04 series against Australia was drawn, India won in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, West Indies, England and lost only twice during the period – to South Africa and Pakistan.
This was a period when India’s batsmen from Sachin Tendulkar to VVS Laxman had the right mix of experience and form. Virender Sehwag was at his peak as well and Rahul Dravid provided them with a solid, consistent platform. The bowlers, led by Anil Kumble, often found a way to get the job done. They may not have had the same pace bowling depth of the current squad but they were very good on their day.
Three, Kohli likes to speak about how he now has an experienced squad that has played in conditions all around the world. But it is time his squad starts showing the value of that experience. The veterans of this side need to stand and make sure that India are not ceding the early advantage to the opposition because as we have seen, once that happens then things don’t exactly go to plan for India.
This is a young and inexperienced Australian batting line-up and if India can put them under the pump, they might find that their series will get off to the perfect start. And as they say, well begun is half the job done.