Team India was once considered one of the best test teams of them all. And that was until recently. As recently as 2011. And then this happened –
The above stat shows Team India’s performance in Test matches from 2011. A look at the winners column and you know what I am talking about. We are poles apart while playing at home compared to overseas tours. Look at the home record – played 15, won 11 and lost 2. That’s a winning % of over 73. Now look at the away records - abysmal to say the least. We have played 15 away games since 2011, lost 10 and won 1 with a winning % of around 6. We used to be poor travelers but were never this bad!
So what has changed?
- Retirement / Dropping seniors – We boasted of one of the best and attacking opening batsmen in Sehwag and Gambhir. One of the two usually used to score and score big. On loss of 1st wicket, we had the wall himself coming in at one down – Rahul Dravid. Then God of Cricket – Sachin Tendulkar – used to come 2 down. Number 5 used to be the effervescent Sourav Ganguly – a shrewd captain and God of offside. If the opposition bowlers were in the form of their lives, a Very-Very-Special (VVS) player by the name Laxman enters at 4 down. Can you beat that? But where are these players now? The openers are still playing, but at domestic levels. They are yet to break into the test team after being dropped. The next four have retired. We now have a new crop of young and talented players eager to fill the legends’ boot. To be fair to the new lot, they have done very well in their own backyard. It’s the away form and the lack of experience playing away tests is a worry.
- Bowling – To be honest and brutally frank, Team India was never considered to be a bowling unit – at least from 1990s. We were / are / always will be considered as a batting unit with a set of bowlers who can defend totals and help the batting team as / when needed. Harsh, but not far from truth. And it’s not the bowlers who are to be blamed, it’s us. Our pitches are conducive to batting. We need runs and more runs. And as a result we produce a set of bowlers who are primarily defensive (so as to prevent runs being scored) than attacking (take wickets at the cost of runs). It works in India, but not overseas. And once in a while, our bowler decides to attack, he comes back with a sizeable tally of wickets (case in point: Ishant Sharma in New Zealand 2014).
What needs to change?
- Bring back one / some of the experienced batsmen – Whatever the current form of the player, he needs to be included in overseas tours. I personally would like Gambhir to make a comeback. Having an experienced batsmen can help the team in two ways – he will be in a better position to help the younger batsmen adjust according to the playing conditions and will act as pivot around which the team can bat and score. Sehwag won’t fit this bill. Who isn’t a fan of Sehwag’s batting? But we have enough Sehwag-type (read: attacking) players in the team already.
- Bring back one / some of the experienced bowlers – Our spinners are exactly lighting the stage on fire overseas. But we still persist with the same crop. The reason – we don’t have enough bench strength. That’s true. We don’t have enough bench strength because we don’t provide them with opportunities to play (case in point: Amit Mishra). We need to bring back Harbhajan Singh. He was once the ‘turbanator’ remember? I see no cricketing reason why he can’t replace Ashwin overseas. Amit Mishra can also be given an opportunity. And develop Ashwin around them instead of throwing him in the deep pit.
- Change the coach – When things are going wrong, the higher-ups need to make a decision of axing someone to show they mean business. You could replace the word "axing" with "sacrificing" and the idea remains the same. Duncan, however, has had a lot of opportunities to change the losing streak. He failed. Infact, Duncan hasn't won a single away tour with Team India. The captain has failed too – but that’s for another day. The very fact that we have a ‘foreign’ coach is to help the youngsters cope better in an alien territory. One area where Duncan was unlucky was that he took control of the team when we had peaked (after winning the 2011 WC). The result will obviously hurt the morale of the players who also play in the ODIs. And we have a World Cup to defend, again in alien territories. Need a change and that too ASAP.
I am not against young blood. Cricketers like Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin will be the future legends of the game and have it in them to ably replace the current legends. But they need experience and the aura of victory around them to continue the transition from top cricketers of the country to legends of the game.