2014 - A year to forget for Indian Test cricket
“It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.”
People familiar with Facebook will easily recognize this line as this is what your profile page says for the year 2014. I was wondering if there was a Facebook page dedicated for the Indian Test team, what would it say about the year 2014? With three Test series losses and a record that reads as Tests played – 9, Won – 1, Lost – 6, Drawn – 2, it was anything but great.
Add to it the fact that India’s Test ranking slipped down from No.2 to No.6 (only above New Zealand, West Indies, Bangladesh & Zimbabwe) and the year slowly starts sounding like dismal. In social media lingo, the only event which would get likes or shares would be the victory against England at Lord’s (which happened after a gap of 28 years).
In the team’s defence, the 3 Test tours were all difficult and the team was still in a transition phase. It was trying to find replacements for the once-famed middle-order – ‘The Fab Four’. The bowling too did not have a settled look. It was also the first year in a long time when the Indian dressing room was without the last surviving member of the fab four: Sachin Tendulkar. For a team which has historically been known as poor travellers, all this was too much to cope up with.
The year had begun not too badly for the Indians. The team lost a close contest in the first Test match against New Zealand and managed a draw in the second. After the New Zealand series came the much-awaited tour of England. Here again, the start was not disappointing. After a draw in the first match, India pulled off a brilliant victory at Lord’s.
The script for a “great year” seemed to be going in the right direction. But the loss at Lord’s was too much to take for England, and they bounced back soon. In no time, India lost three consecutive matches by huge margins and with that the series. The next Test assignment was Down Under in Australia, and it began well when India almost managed to chase down 360 odd runs in the fourth innings in Adelaide. But then we lost the next Test match and barely managed to hold on to a draw in the third.
Bowling remains a concern
So, was it just a case of lost opportunities or has the Indian team performed really poorly in Tests throughout the year? I am sorry to say that it has been a case of poor performance only with few instances of individual brilliance.
In many of the matches, the batting has collapsed which has led to losses, but the bowling also has been ineffective for most parts to say the least. Cricket experts always say that it is the bowlers who win you Test matches and the harsh reality is that India does not have bowlers who can take 20 wickets consistently.
India’s match winner at Lord’s and their most experienced bowler currently, Ishant Sharma, has been good only in patches and there is no one else to lead the attack. Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav have shown some promise, but they are very new to the Test arena. Once considered the land of spinners, India is failing to find quality spinners who can perform outside the subcontinent. Ravichandran Ashwin’s performance outside home is currently miles short of what one would expect from the lead spin bowler.
The road ahead
As I write this piece, news has come in that Indian captain MS Dhoni has announced his retirement from Test cricket, and he will be replaced by Virat Kohli. Kohli has shown promise in the few matches that he has led. So I hope that this change brings in some good results. Come the 4th Test against Australia at Sydney, his captaincy will be severely tested without doubt. His own good form will be a factor which will work in his favour. But apart from that, there is a laundry list of worries.
Batting is not that much a worry with promising players like Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteswar Pujara & Murali Vijay. It is the bowling department that Kohli has to sort out. With a comeback path looking difficult for old war horses like Zaheer Khan & Harbhajan Singh, it will be up to him to either fine tune the Shamis and Yadavs of the world or find some new talent from domestic cricket.
I wish him all the best for the New Year and hope that I will not have any hesitation in writing at the end of 2015 – “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it”.