7 great cricketers who struggled in Tests in India

Muralitharan and Warne struggled against an Indian batting lineup featuring Tendulkar on Indian soil
Muralitharan and Warne struggled against an Indian batting lineup featuring Tendulkar on Indian soil

India now find themselves at the top of the ICC's Test ranking, having won 12 of their last 14 Test series. The current Indian team has the depth and diversity to challenge in countries where India has traditionally struggled, as is shown by their recent series win in Australia, and the fact they won Tests in Australia, South Africa, and England in 2018 alone.

But the fact remains that India are at their strongest when playing at home. Part of the reason India's performance against the aforementioned nations are impressive is that the conditions in cricket playing countries outside of Asia are very different. The inverse is also true, as teams from countries where the pitches generally favor pace, bounce and swing find it difficult to adapt to the drier, more spin friendly pitches of India.

Yet this only gives a partial explanation for why India is such a difficult destination for touring teams, as the last three away sides to win a series in India all come from outside of Asia.

Perhaps this is due to India having been the first Asian nation to be given Test playing status. India played their first Test in 1932, and by the time Pakistan would join them as the second Asian team in 1952, India had already become an established side.

It is easy to forget that Sri Lanka only played their first Test in 1982, and Bangladesh in 2000. Subsequently, for much of India's cricketing history, the teams that have been the best equipped to win in India have been the ones least equipped for the conditions.

These are not just conditions India are used to, but the conditions they have mastered. This mastery first became apparent in the 1960s and 1970s where India began to produce a litany of fantastic spin-bowlers.

Sir Vivian Richards once said he was "A nervous wreck," when he went to India and had to face the spin quarter of Bishan Bedi Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkatraghavan.

It is particularly telling that these words come from Richards, a man whose demeanor suggested absolute confidence, but also by the fact that Richards actually had a decent average in India. Of all the visiting players, only Derek Underwood played more Tests in India than Viv Richards' 15. Yet Richards managed an of average of 45.42 in India, which is certainly respectable even if it is below his career average.

But in the decades to come it would often be the away teams bowlers that would carry the anxiety, as in the 1990s and 2000s the Indian side was frequently filled with some truly great batsmen. This meant that spin-bowlers no longer enjoyed touring India as the once had, because while the conditions may have suited them, they were playing against exceptional batsmen who had honed their techniques in these conditions.

#7 Shane Warne

Shane Warne
Shane Warne

Shane Warne was not only a great bowler for the sheer number of wickets he took and the often incredible manner in which he took them, but also for his ability to succeed in a variety of conditions.

Warne played in 11 different countries throughout his Test cricketing career and averaged below 30 in all but two of them. These two countries were the West Indies, where he averaged 39.65, and India, where his average was an underwhelming 43.12.

This is particularly surprising as Warne regarded was one of the best spin bowlers in the world by the time he played his first series in India. Furthermore, the tour took place in 1998, just after the Australian summer where Warne had been in fine form, taking 39 wickets in six games against New Zealand and South Africa.

By this stage, Australia hadn't won in India since 1969, and Warne seemed to many to be the key they needed to break this drought. He started the series well. In the first innings of the first Test, he took 4/85 which included the vital wickets of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Mohammad Azharuddin.

In the second innings, Warne would dismiss Dravid once more. But India would pile on the runs, as Tendulkar made a brilliant century, and Warne ended with the innings with figures of 1/122.

Warne struggled greatly through the rest of the tour, and in three games he only managed 10 wickets at an average of 54. Making his statistics look all the more damning was that his rival leg-spinner, Anil Kumble, had a brilliant series, ending with 23 wickets at just 18.09.

A little under three years on and Warne's second tour of India told a rather similar story. Once again Warne started well, with four wickets in his first innings, but once again he'd leave only taking 10 in three matches with an average of over 50.

In this series, Warne also suffered through Dravid and Laxman's incredible 374 run partnership in Kolkata. Here Warne was helpless in the face of history, as he ended the innings with 1/152. Further adding salt into the wounds was that Warne was once more eclipsed by his rival spinner, as Harbhajan Singh had one of the most remarkable series a bowler has ever had, taking 32 wickets in just three tests.

Warne's third and final tour of India bore happier results, as Australia won their first series in India since 1969, and Warne took his first and only five wicket-haul in the country. His series average of 30.07 was still far from brilliant, but considering the quality of batsmen he faced it was acceptable.

#6 Ricky Ponting

India v Aust X.jpg
Ricky Ponting

In that historical 2004 series against India, Ricky Ponting actually missed the first three games due to injury, only returning for the fourth Test which Australia lost.

This had seemed a huge loss for Australia, as the previous year Ponting's form had been Bradmanesque, as he scored 1503 runs at 100.20. Yet in a peculiar way, this actually benefited Australia.

This is for two reasons: Firstly, Ponting often struggled in India, averaging just 26.48 there, less than in any other country he played. But also because he was replaced by a young Michael Clarke, who not only scored 151 on debut in the first Test but also ended the series as Australia's second leading run-scorer, just behind Damien Martyn.

In his lone Test in that series, Ponting only managed scores of 11 and 12, which weren't an anomaly in comparison to his other performances in India, but were an anomaly in that Harbhajan Singh didn't dismiss Ponting.

This is because much of Ponting's struggles in India resulted from his struggles with Harbhajan, as the off-spinner dismissed Ponting more than any other bowler in Tests, claiming his wicket 10 times in just 27 innings.

This duel reached its peak during Harbhajan astonishing 2001 series, as he dismissed Ponting in all the five innings he batted in, with Ponting ending the series with just 17 runs at an average of 3.40.

Like Warne, Ponting got better at playing in India as his career went on. In his final series there, he averaged 56.00, having made his first and only century in India the series before.

Strangely, Ponting also has a good record against India overall, averaging 54.36 against the Indians, and having scored more runs against them than he did against any other country.

This is because his home performances against India were superb, as he made three double-centuries against India in Australia, including two in consecutive Tests in 2003.

#5 Muttiah Muralitharan

2011 ICC World Cup - Sri Lanka Nets Session
Muttiah Muralitharan

It speaks volumes about the skill of the Indian batsmen in the 1990s and 2000s that they played in an era where arguably the two greatest spin-bowlers of all time in Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan, yet made them both struggle for results in India.

Similar to Warne, Muralitharan only averaged above 30 with the ball in two countries. In five games in Australia he only managed an average of 75.42, and in 11 games in India, the most he played in a single country away from home, his average was 45.45. This is not very different from Warne's average in India, which was 43.12.

In these 11 Tests Muralitharan did still manage to take 40 wickets and deliver some quality performances, but the fact his average in India is nearly twice that of his career average cannot be ignored.

Muralitharan started fairly well against India, taking 5/162 in his first innings bowling there. He was even the pick of the Sri Lankan bowlers in the next Test, as he took 4/179.

But in both Tests India would win by an innings, and despite subsequently only having to bowl in two innings in these Tests, Muralitharan delivered 106.5 overs in the two Tests combined. It would be understandable if he felt somewhat discouraged after this.

Whatever the effect of this series on Muralitharan, his next of India was far worse. Here Muralitharan took just 3 wickets for 311 runs, once again bowling in two innings across two Tests, and this time bowling a total of 121 overs.

This series took place in 1997, and Muralitharan wouldn't play in India again until eight years later in 2005. But in Muralitharan made up for lost time, as he took 7/100 in the first innings of the second Test. Nevertheless, Muralitharan still only averaged 31 in this series, and in his final tour of India would struggle once more, with an average of 65.67.

Muralitharan was perhaps unlucky, as regardless of whether he was finding joy with the ball or not, he was expected to carry his attack. But that Warne and Muralitharan both struggled so much in India does give some insight into why it is so difficult for visiting teams to win there.

#4 Arjuna Ranatunga

Former Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga...
Arjuna Ranatunga

Arjuna Ranatunga's statistics may be overshadowed by the great Sri Lankan batsmen that have followed him, but he still had a fantastic career, spanning from the country's first Test in 1982, all the way to the new millennium in 2000.

Ranatunga also captained 56 of the 93 Tests he played, meaning he has captained more Test matches than any other Sri Lankan.

Ranatunga's Test career is an odd one, as he despite a reasonable batting average of 35.70, he only scored four hundreds, all of them at home. Nevertheless, he averaged over 40 in Australia, England and the West Indies, all places where conditions were very different to where he played most his cricket.

Yet against India Ranatunga struggled greatly, averaging just 20.21 in the 11 Tests he played. In fact, in the five series Ranatunga played in India, he never once finished a series with an average above 30, nor did he ever score above 59.

Similar to Ponting, this is to some extent explained by a bowler Ranatunga had a particular weakness against. But despite having played against the likes of Anil Kumble and Kapil Dev, the bowler who troubled Ranatunga the most was Venkatapathy Raju.

Raju only played 28 Tests, but was perhaps unlucky not to play more, as he had a solid record in these games. But he still managed to leave his mark on the Sri Lankan great. He dismissed Ranatunga six times in just 10 innings. To put this into context, Kapil Dev bowled to Ranatunga in 26 separate innings, yet only dismissed him twice.

Ranatunga's record against India is therefore rather peculiar, not just in that he was a quality player who struggled, but also for the way he struggled.

#3 Desmond Haynes

The West Indies team
Desmond Haynes

Desmond Haynes's Test career spanned from 1978 to 1994. For almost the whole time, he played for the West Indies they were the best team in the world. Haynes played a big part in the West Indies dominance too, as he played 116 Tests, making 7487 runs at an average of 42.30.

Haynes was very comfortable against pace, as an opening batsman should be. However, with spin, it was another matter.

In all the countries outside of Asia, Haynes averaged 30 or more, with him being at his best at home, where he averaged 56.06. But conversely, in all the countries in Asia where he played Test cricket, Haynes averaged below thirty. Haynes played 10 Tests against India, yet only managed 377 runs at an average of 22.18.

The contrast in Haynes worth in varying conditions is shown by a couple of series in 1983. In this year the West Indies first hosted a five-match series against India. Playing at home, Haynes was his usual self with the bat: reliable and technically sound.

In this series, he scored 333 runs at 55.50. The West Indies very next tour was also against India, but this time it would be a six-match series in India. Here Haynes struggled greatly, ending up making just 176 runs at 17.60.

Further emphasizing the disparity in Haynes's effectiveness in different conditions, is that the next series he played was at home against Australia, where he made 468 runs at 93.60. This suggests that rather than being a drop in form, Haynes's record in India is more likely due to flaws in his game.

Haynes also provides yet another example of an Indian bowler having a great batsman in his pocket. Only one Indian bowler dismissed Haynes more than Kapil Dev. The opener also fell eight times to Ravi Shastri, with these dismissals spread across 28 innings.

Shastri's left arm finger-spin was decent, but with 151 wickets at an average of 40.97, it is strange that he would hold such an impressive record over such a skilled batsman. In fact, Shastri didn't get any other batter out more than six times, meaning Haynes was comfortably the batsman he had the most joy against.

Haynes was a brilliant batsman, but India and Shastri exposed a significant weakness in his game.

#2 Salim Malik

Salim Malik
Salim Malik

Salim Malik was a player who oozed class. His impeccable timing and graceful stroke-play meant that he endeared himself not only to Pakistani supporters but cricket fans across the globe. That was, at least, until he was banned from all cricket for match-fixing in 2000.

This may make the title of "great player" a dubious one for Malik, but he was certainly a great talent.

Before his ban, Malik played 103 Tests for Pakistan, scoring 5768 runs at 43.70. Yet in 10 Tests against India he never once passed 50, and only averaged 19.13.

Malik's first tour of India was in 1983, still quite early in Malik's career. He'd already played against India in a series at home and had even managed a century in that series. Yet when he went to India later in the year he spent precious little time at the crease, being dismissed for 5 and then 0, Kapil Dev the bowler on both occasions.

But Malik would get a better chance to prove his worth in India in a five-match series in 1987. However, it turned out to be another tough series for Malik, as he averaged 22.14 across the five Tests, his high-score just 33. Remarkably, this turned out to be his high score in India across 18 innings, despite it still being lower than his career average.

Malik's final series in India was over a decade later in 1999, just months before his ban. Malik got some starts in the two Tests he played, but once again failed to make anything of them, and ended the series with just 86 runs at 21.50.

A strange anomaly in Malik's record is that he had very good figures in India in ODIs. Here he averaged 41 with a strike-rate of 96.01, higher than in any other country he played. This raises the question as to why he struggled so much in Tests in India.

He didn't have a weakness against a particular Indian bowler, nor did he struggled against spin, as shown by the way he often dominated Shane Warne. It is therefore hard to tell why in 18 innings in the country he could never manage a score that was better than mediocre.

#1 Ian Bell

England v Mumbai A - Day Two
Ian Bell

Ian Bell is a player who was a joy to watch. While the right-hander could be occasionally inconsistent, when he was in form there were few finer spectacles in the game.

Yet India was always a difficult location for Bell, as throughout his career he only scored 352 runs at an average of 27.08 while playing there. Bell's average in India would actually have been much lower if not for the 116 not out he scored in his final innings in the country.

This innings took place in England's successful 2012 tour of India, which is the last series India have lost at home. It saw a very strong England side win the four-match series 2-1, despite having gone behind after the first Test.

Bell's innings in the fourth and final Test of the series was crucial. England held the series lead and were therefore happy to take a draw. However, they didn't manage to force India out of the game in the first innings and therefore went into the second innings with just a four-run advantage.

India pushed hard on a pitch that offered their bowlers little, and they were rewarded too, as they had England 3/94 when Bell arrived at the crease, having taken the massive wickets of both Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen.

However, Bell and Jonathan Trott proved stubborn opposition for the Indians and ensured England drew the match and won the series.

It was a great innings from Bell, but also one that brought into question why he hadn't been able to perform in India beforehand. As the likes of Warne and Ponting show, some players do start to get better at playing in India if they build up enough experience playing there.

But from the start of his career, Bell seemed to have a technique that he would benefit from in the Asian countries, with his style of batting at times seeming similar to that of VVS Laxman's.

But unlike many other batsmen, Bell wasn't troubled by the Indian spin-bowlers as much as he was by their pace attack. Ishant Sharma dismissed him the most times in Test cricket, along with Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson who all claimed his wicket seven times. But while Harris and Johnson bowled to Bell in 22 and 30 innings respectively, Sharma only bowled to him in 17.

Similarly, Zaheer Khan had an impressive record against Bell, dismissing Bell five times in just 14 innings. Even Bhuvneshwar Kumar, despite only bowling to Bell in seven innings, managed to dismiss the Englishman on three occasions.

Bell struggled with the swing that these three bowlers were all very adept at finding. This hindered him from showing his class in India for most of his career, although his final performance there ended sweetly.

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Edited by Ram Kumar
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