For India, it was an all too familiar story on overseas tours this year, and the no. 1 side in the world have no choice but to reflect back on yet another story of what could have been.
It was not all doom and gloom for India on this tour and the Indian seam bowling delivered in all the Tests, and at times even out bowled their English and South African counterparts for large portions of the series. Batting has been Indian teams the major issue during both the overseas tours this year as everyone except skipper Virat Kohli has struggled to score runs in alien foreign conditions.
The Indian Test team, under the leadership of captain, Virat Kohli have enjoyed remarkable success in the past three years, remaining unbeaten in ten consecutive series. The stupendous run was achieved in familiar conditions at home and against weak opponents like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka (twice), West Indies (twice during home and away tours) and Bangladesh away.
When the challenging overseas tours began this year with a visit to South Africa, there were a lot of expectations from the team. Most of them had the confidence that this Indian team had the best chance to win the series in South Africa as everyone in team were in good form. But Team India faltered yet again abroad. While the usual weak link, the bowling, did a good job, it was the the batting which flopped. Thus, the series was lost with a Test match still to be played. There were many factors which contributed to the defeat, like strange selection calls, poor shots, dropped catches and a great performance from South Africa in crucial moments.
During the 5 match test series in England, barring the second Test at Lord’s, India fought toe-to-toe with the hosts in the rest of the matches. They had their moments and stayed on the top for the majority of the sessions. They had one foot in their opponent’s throat. Instead of going for the kill, they somehow strangely lost their hold and gave their opponents a slim chance of a comeback. Sam Curran’s knock in the first and fourth games are perfect examples.
Here are ten things which might help India to improve their overseas performance:
Consistent Contributions from Opening Batsmen
Since the very successful and consistent opening duo of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were separated after the series loss to England at home in 2012, Team India has struggled to find a stable opening pair for a considerable period of time. There have been way too many injuries to the openers and the opening combination has kept changing in almost every alternate series. Now with Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay overlooked it’s time to invest in young prodigy Prithvi Shaw to build a successful test unit. KL Rahul needs to improve his consistency or else he will also be axed like his predecessors.
Match Winning Contributions from Spinners in away Tours
Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble played a huge role in India’s performances away from home. Harbhajan picked up six wickets in India’s win at Durban in 2010 while also returning with a seven-wicket haul in the drawn Test at Cape Town in the same series. He also scalped six wickets in India’s win at Hamilton in the 2009 tour of New Zealand. Similarly, when India drew the series in Australia in 2003-04, Kumble was the leading wicket-taker from either side with 24 wickets in just three matches. But in the present set-up Ashwin and Jadeja who destroy oppositions in home conditions have struggled to take wickets on away tours. So if they start performing well it will reduce the pressure on pace attack.
By Grasping the Opportunity when in a Dominating Position rather than letting Advantage Slip away
Another issue plaguing the Indian team in their overseas tours is that they often lose control when they are on top in the game and allow the opposition to dominate the proceedings. This has hampered the momentum on various occasions, thus making it difficult to stage a comeback in the game again. Here are the few instances when India let the game drift away. The recently concluded England series is the best example as India were able to get the top order batsmen out cheaply but struggled to take the wickets of tail-enders. This has to change if India want to be successful in overseas tours.
Strategical Selection of Bowlers
The real question is whether India needs to play 5 bowlers, even on very bowler friendly pitches, as 4 quality bowlers are more than enough for such wickets. On seaming wickets like England and South Africa, losing wickets to the new ball is the norm, and if 2 early wickets fall, then that leaves India playing with effectively just 3 batsmen. That’s why playing Hardik Pandya made less sense as an extra batsman would have strengthened the already struggling lower middle order.
Lower Order Contributions
During the home series in last couple of years, the lower order has contributed immensely with the bat. There were many rescue acts as well as the quick-fire cameos that have helped in setting up the stage for a declaration. The contributions of the tail assume great importance in the away tours( example – Sam Curran’s vital contributions which decided the fate of the series), where the Indian teams of the past have been blown away by the opposition’s pace attack.
Should Stop Losing Wickets in Clusters
The Indian Test team have been facing a problem of losing their wickets in clusters in the overseas series. There have been numerous instances of the Indian team collapsing, sometimes even after a very good partnership( like the 3rd test in England) that has taken the team to a position of strength. To cite a few examples, during the chase against Australia at Adelaide, India lost the last eight wickets for just 73 runs, thereby losing the Test which was in their grasp. The Auckland and Galle tests were also lost due to the wickets that fell in heaps, as the batsmen could not build useful partnerships.
Batsmen Should not let the Bowlers Down
In their last nine overseas Tests, Indian bowlers had bowled-out their oppositions in eight of those games. The Lord’s Test against England is the only exception. Among those eight games, barring the third Tests against both England & South Africa, the batters failed miserably. They were unable to complement their bowler’s efforts. Poor shot selections, lack of temperament and poor technique against quality seam & swing bowling are the significant reasons behind batsmen failures.
Play at least a Couple of Practice Matches
Indian team this year did not play a single practice match in South Africa but they realized their mistake at the end of the SA tour, and requested a single four-day practice match to be scheduled before the Test series against England. However, even that single match was reduced to three days after the request form the visiting skipper. Many great players like Rahul Dravid have insisted on the advantages of playing practice games which help players to get acclimatize to the conditions.
By not making Constant Changes to their Playing XI
In the first two Tests against South Africa, Ajinkya Rahane, the vice-captain, was dropped in favor of the in-form Rohit Sharma. When Rahane returned for the third Test, he showed his worth with a fine knock of 48 runs in the second innings. In the second Test, Bhuvneshwar Kumar was dropped for strange reasons. In the first Test against England, Cheteshwar Pujara was dropped.
However, he showed his class as soon as he returned to the squad. This constant chopping and changing can affect a player mentally. When the position in the playing XI is not guaranteed, the players are under heavy pressure to perform well and retain their places in the forthcoming games.
By Reducing Dependency On Virat Kohli to score bulk of Teams Runs
India has batsmen who are highly capable and have performed in foreign conditions earlier such as Ajinkya Rahane and Pujara. But these batsmen looked completely out of sorts, their techniques were exposed and they looked nervous at the crease. The relentless attacking bowling from England and South Africa certainly added to the Indian batsmen’s misery this year.
And on the contrary, Virat Kohli was everything that his other batsmen weren’t. He looked confident, extremely focused and looked like a man on a mission – to shut the critics down, especially after his disastrous tour to England in 2014. He was the leading run scorer in both the away tours this year. Other batsmen need to step up and reduce over dependency on Kohli to score majority of runs.