India's batting is still ailing in Test cricket outside Asia
- A statistical look on how India's batting is turning out to be a consistent let down in 'SENA' nations
India suffered their first Test series loss since the tour of England in 2018 as New Zealand whitewashed Virat Kohli's men in the two-match series. What will hurt the Men in Blue is the manner of the defeats as they failed to put a considerable fight in either match. Having lost all 120 World Test Championship points on offer, this is a month of cricket that could come to hurt India massively in the future.
When a team of India's stature is defeated so easily, there is bound to be a post-mortem. For this series, one doesn't need to look too deep down to figure out what went wrong as the buck stops at the batting unit. India crossed 200 only once in the entire series and with scores of 165, 191, 242, 124; a team barely stands much chance of winning Test matches. Even taking account of the hostile batting conditions and that they had to bat on the first day both times, one would still expect a talented line-up to at least get scores within the range of 250-300 consistently.
Quite unfortunately for India, no batsman stepped up in the two-match series and led the way for the entire team to follow. Mayank Agarwal with 102 runs was India's top scorer in the series with Cheteshwar Pujara and Prithvi Shaw closely following them with 100 and 98 runs respectively.
The biggest surprise was captain Virat Kohli only managing to score 38 runs across the four innings. With the talisman failing, it was all the more important for the rest of the batting unit to collectively take responsibility. However, no Indian batsman's averaged more than 30 in the series and hence there were no respectable, fighting totals.
A closer look would suggest that India's batting problems outside Asia aren't new to this team and were evident across the current 'SENA' cycle. Apart from Kohli, only Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane were a consistent presence in the team across the four tours and their records barely inspired confidence. While Pujara was the star of India's win in Australia, he only averaged 39.71 in England, 16.66 in South Africa, and 25 in New Zealand. Meanwhile, Rahane played 12 games in the four countries since 2018 and only scored 622 runs at an average of 27.04. While Kohli scored 1161 in 12 matches in England, Australia, and South Africa; his failure in New Zealand only went on to expose the team's dependency on him. With the likes of Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, and Hanuma Vihari relatively inexperienced, the onus was on the experienced trio to deliver against the Black Caps.
Lack of Centuries
The problems run deeper and if one day of action exhibited them, it was the first day of the second Test. Batting first, India got a solid foundation with Shaw, Pujara, and Vihari scoring half-centuries. However, they lost their wickets after scoring 54, 54, and 55 respectively . None of them managed to hit the three-figure mark and carry the team to a big total.
Indian batsman's failure to hit centuries became a common theme over the recent SENA cycle. Apart from Kohli and Pujara (4 each), only Rishabh Pant (2) and KL Rahul (1) managed to score a century in the 14-match cycle. In fact, even Pujara only managed one three-figure knock outside Australia. Most disappointingly, Rahane did not score a single century over the four tours despite being the star when India toured the same nations in the 2013-2014 cycle.
While Agarwal and Vihari played a few solid knocks in these nations, they could not convert any of them into a big score. Similarly, the likes of Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan, and Murali Vijay who opened in the majority of India's matches in the cycle also failed at reaching the three-figure mark. No team is successful in the red-ball cricket without having players who regularly stay long at the crease with the desire to pile on the runs. This is something India discovered first hand in New Zealand.
Despite being the world number one team and the historic series win in Australia, India has now lost a series in South Africa (2-1), England (4-1), and New Zealand (2-0) over the last two years. For a team as talented as Virat Kohli's, one would expect better results. With India arguably possessing the greatest bowling attack they have ever had; it is the batsman who have to shoulder the blame.
While the focus for the next six months will shift on the game's shortest format and the T20 World Cup, India's next Test assignment will be another away series against Australia. With the race to the make the World Test Championship final heating up, that series promises to be a cracking one. Without a doubt, the Aussies would have seen India's troubles in New Zealand and will prepare pitches that can help their explosive pace attack. The onus is on Virat Kohli and the team management to replicate the success achieved in 2018-19.
Published 06 Mar 2020, 05:49 IST