For a team to etch its names in history books as a dominant force, they need to win Tests away from home. Most teams struggle overseas conditions, which are familiar and more-suited to the home sides. Therefore, it isn’t a surprise when a team is lauded for overseas victories.
South Africa had made a serious reputation for themselves early in this century, remaining unbeaten in overseas Test series from September 2006 to November 2015. During this period, they had an overseas win-loss (W/L) ratio of 4.25. The next-best at the time were Australia, with a win-loss ratio of 0.89. In this time frame, South Africa were the No.1 Test side for a cumulative period of three-and-half years.
AT the time, South Africa’s overseas batting average and bowling average read 42.2 and 32.5.
No team has managed the South Africa-like dominance ever since, but India have been impressive.
These discussions have only intensified after India’s inspirational 2-1 win in Australia. Ravi Shastri, India’s head coach, called the current Indian team the best in the past 15-20 years despite the 1-4 series loss in 2018 in England. Naturally, the statement opened the doors to intense debates and discussions.
India’s impressive overseas win-loss ratio
Trivia: India have won four Tests in Australia in the last two years. Pakistan haven't won a Test in Australia since 1995, and Sri Lanka have never won a Test there.
India’s overseas series results since 2015
Bowlers make it happen for India
Historically, India's strength has been their batting prowess. However, when Virat Kohli took charge, he quickly realised that it's the ability to take 20 wickets would determine India's fortunes overseas. He prioritised the same. There were experiments, there were failures, but the intent to build the team around the right bowling combination drove the team’s success.
Team averages (Since January 2015)
The above table demonstrates India’s overall superiority in Test cricket. If we specifically look at the overseas side of the table, India are the only side with a positive average difference, and it's over five and a half.
Despite topping the table for batting averages, India's batsmen were their weakness overseas, leading to their defeats in South Africa and England. They lost six out of eight Tests there in 2018.
They were completely outplayed at Lord's, but the five other results could have gone either way had India batted better.
England are not too behind India in terms of their overseas batting.
However, it's the bowling that has made a major difference. Even Australia, with all their bowling prowess, are below India on the table. The mentioned period also saw Mitchell Johnson play seven overseas Tests.
During the Azhar-Sachin era of the 1990s, India’s overseas bowling average was the worst for that time, at 41.61. The improved results in the 2000s, during the Ganguly, Dravid and Kumble reign, was due to a better bowling average of 35.86. During the Dhoni era, the bowling average dipped to a dismal 42.44 and that reflected in the poor run.
India’s highest overseas wicket-takers since January 2015
Since January 2015, only 46 bowlers (minimum five wickets under their belt) have averaged below 30 in Tests. 12 in the list are Indians.
During the same phase, India won all their home series – winning 22 Tests and losing one. No wonder they topped the ICC Test Rankings for almost four years.
A lot of credit goes to Virat Kohli’s vision, the BCCI’s support, and a system that includes visionaries like Sourav Ganguly, coaches like Ravi Shastri, Anil Kumble and Bharat Arun; as well as the meticulous planning behind the scenes from the likes of Rahul Dravid.
Greg Chappell has recently said that India can produce five best teams in the world. With the current crop of talent in disposal, it's far from an exaggeration.