Indian fans woke up to a depressing and familiar sight on Monday morning. The Indian team had once again gone down without a fight in a SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) country on the fourth morning of the first Test against New Zealand. Virat Kohli’s men suffered their first defeat, a resounding one, in the World Test Championship after going through all of 2019 undefeated (mostly at home) in Test cricket. They have now lost four consecutive matches in this tour (three ODIs and one test), with one test match to go.
For a team ranked no. 1 in the world in test cricket, India has an astonishingly poor record overseas. The team managed one consolation win each in series defeats in England and South Africa. A 2-1 triumph against a weakened Australian team down under is the only overseas success of note on the team’s resume. Granted, India isn’t the only team facing struggles overseas, and is more dominant at home than any other side in the world. But if they want to hold true coach Ravi Shastri’s audacious claim of this being “the best Indian team in the last 15-20 years”, they must improve their overseas graph. Here are five problems, clear as daylight, that India must address if they want to win the next test at Christchurch and level the series.
The form of Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah
Kohli and Bumrah have been the cornerstones of India’s success in the last three years. It hardly comes as a surprise that the recent dip in the team’s fortunes has coincided with the failures of these two men. The skipper has had a wretched tour, with only one half-century (in the first ODI) in 10 innings. In the first innings in Wellington, he edged a fifth-stump delivery to the slips which was reminiscent of his struggles in England in 2014. Jasprit Bumrah, cricket’s premier fast bowler till a month ago, has found his return after a long injury layoff to be a tough ordeal. He bowled well in the T20 leg, but finished wicketless in three ODIs and managed just one scalp in the first Test match. With their strike bowler off-colour, India would have struggled to bowl New Zealand out if it wasn’t for elder statesman Ishant Sharma rising to the occasion with a five-wicket haul. Kohli and Bumrah need to put in an inspired effort if they want to arrest the team’s slide in the next game.
The fragile batting in non-Indian conditions
The rise of Indian bowling in recent years has to an extent covered for India’s batting woes in test cricket. For a team that once relied heavily on its illustrious batsmen to win test matches, the batting has looked remarkably inept in swinging and seaming conditions post the Tendulkar and Dravid era. This is the 8th Test match out of 13 that India has lost in SENA countries since they took the top ranking, and these losses have all been largely due to batting failures. India’s totals in Wellington were 175 and 191. Vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane looked the most assured in both innings, and opener Mayank Agarwal churned out a gritty half-century in the innings. But for the remaining batsmen, it was a struggle.
The inconsistency of Cheteshwar Pujara
A little over a year ago, we saw Cheteshwar Pujara going through a purple patch in Australia, where he scored three centuries and bagged the Man of the Series award. But the test specialist hasn’t had the best of times since then. He is still remarkably efficient at taking the shine off the new ball with his doggedness and incessant blunting, but one would expect a player of his caliber to play a longer innings once the ball gets softer. His 11 off 81 in the second innings at Wellington was again an indicator that no matter how solid and stubborn he looks, it takes just one good ball to get him at any stage of the innings. India needs Pujara to bat longer and help the team cross at least 250, like he did in Australia.
No Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya
Not that Rohit Sharma has been an integral part of the test team, but his integration into the side as an opener was a move aimed at capitalising on his dominance in white-ball cricket. He had an excellent series against South Africa at home, but an injury ruled him out of tests against New Zealand. This paved a comeback for Prithvi Shaw – a young-blooded opener who is yet to discover the gap between his bat and pad. Rohit’s experience at the top might have done the team good, though there was no guarantee that he would have succeeded against Trent Boult and Tim Southee in swing-friendly conditions. More importantly, India needs the fast-bowling, big-hitting Hardik Pandya to be fit again. The all-rounder lends balance to a side that is perpetually confused between playing seven batsmen or five bowlers. In New Zealand’s conditions, Pandya’s addition to the bowling attack would have made a difference, not to mention the quick runs down the order that he is capable of getting.
This isn’t the first time India has been caught napping in the first Test of an overseas series. Though most players in the squad have been in New Zealand for a month, they’ve failed to familiarise themselves to the conditions. This is also down to New Zealand’s excellent bowling attack at home. India invariably tends to lose the first Test of almost every overseas series and then has to play catch up.
Another problem with the team is its inability to bowl out a side after having them on the ropes. Time and again, India’s bowlers end up conceding runs to the opposition tail after sending the top order back, a trend that shows how the bowlers lose focus and tire after doing the initial hard work. The New Zealand tail wagged in the first innings again, as a debutant bowler whacked bowlers like Bumrah, Mohammad Shami and Ravichandran Ashwin all over the park.
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