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Indians lack nuanced skills of Test cricket

IANS
FEATURED WRITER
1.76K   //    15 Jan 2015, 01:09 IST
Virat Kohli has inherited a Test side that has underperformed badly in 2014

A debate is raging whether India's young skipper Virat Kohli should have shared the Man of the Series award Down Under with his Australian counterpart Steven Smith at the end of the four-match Test series.

Another point being discussed is why India keep failing overseas even after the batsmen give them 400-plus scores in the first innings as they have done in all the four Tests.

Former India captain Nari Contractor 50 years ago made an insightful observation that anyone scoring big runs against Bombay in the Ranji Trophy has to be a really good batsman considering their bowling strength.

Those were the years when the Bombay (now Mumbai) players claimed that it was easier to get into the India team than find a place in their Ranji Trophy side. Contractor, representing Gujarat, scored heavily in a zone in which Bombay was also a part and he got into the India team after scoring a century against the strongest side in domestic cricket.

The measure is the same for bowlers, too.

Bowlers failed to back up Kohli’s commendable achievement

If the same yardstick is applied, Virat Kohli's four tons and 692 runs at an average of 86.50 may be statistics-wise a tad inferior to Steven Smith's 769 runs, also with four centuries at an average of 128.16 -- but then see the vast difference in the bowling attacks of the two sides.

Kohli faced Mitchell Johnson, rated world's best pace bowler, in the first three Tests in which he scored three hundreds. Even off-spinner Nathan Lyon looked exceptionally good with his deceptive flight and turn on the bouncy pitches.

New lad Josh Hazlewood also seemed to have learnt the tricks of the trade quickly, bowling a perfect line and length consistently to keep the Indian batsmen on a tight leash.

If only the Indian bowlers had showed some discipline, the series would have at least been drawn -- if not gone India's way.

For sheer quality of batsmanship, Kohli's fabulous hundreds should be rated a notch or two above Smith's incredible sequence of scores in the series. The one big difference between the performances of the two is that Smith's hundreds won matches for Australia whereas India's bowlers could not help Kohli win or square the series, even though the batsmen came close to delivering twice.

In the first Test in Adelaide, the Indians batted in the second innings as if there were only two results in Test cricket -- victory or defeat -- whereas in the Sydney Test they realised that they could even draw when they are not in a position to win or in danger of losing.

What's wrong with the team?

Simply, the lack of understanding of the nuanced skills of Test match cricket. In adverse situations, they seem to lose their way and did not know how to get back on track. They waited for the opposition to make mistakes, be it batting or bowling, instead of being proactive.

A captain cannot do much if the players do not execute the team strategy with their own thinking. That did not seem to have happened and India capitulated from a position of strength in the Tests they lost.

Every time the fast bowlers falter overseas, the explanation given is that they are carried away by the bounce and movement and in the case of batsmen it is said their technical ineptitude gets magnified.

The argument that Indian fast bowlers lack pace does not hold water any longer as both Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron bowl around 145 km/h-plus consistently and Mohammad Shami is also thereabouts. It is just that they lack direction, not pace. They do bowl wicket-taking deliveries but these are few and far between.

New skipper Virat Kohli is getting impatient and wants to try out fresh fast bowlers. He also perhaps wants to look at another set of spinners, too. The question he should ask himself is when has he last played a domestic game -- and this does not mean matches played in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

The spinners the selectors found are the IPL successes Axar Patel and Karn Sharma and the latter was found wanting when he was capped at Adelaide. The most experienced spinners Amit Sharma and Pragyan Ojha are out of the reckoning for different reasons.

Most of the young batsmen and bowlers these days go with the India A teams to Australia, the West Indies and South Africa regularly and do well. Yet, they do not seem to get noticed by the selectors immediately.

From the India squad, only Lokesh Rahul and Karn Sharma were part of the 'A' team that toured Australia along with Umesh Yadav barely five months before the Test series. Axar was in the One-Day 'A' squad for the tri-series down under and he is now in the squad for the senior tri-series and the World Cup.

The most successful batsman from the junior team, Naman Ojha, struck a double-century and a hundred in the first unofficial Test and another century in the second against Australia A, but he was sent only as cover for injured Mahendra Singh Dhoni for the first Test.

The only other batsman who scored a century for India A was Ambati Rayudu, who figures in the squad for the tri-series and the World Cup. India A Skipper Manoj Tiwary also had a decent outing with scores of 63 and 83. This only shows that there is no room for batsmen at the top.

Now a red alert has been issued to look for bowlers!

(14-01-2015 -- Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at v.srivatsa@ians.in)

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