What next for India in Test matches?
Analyzing India's squad in Test matches and what can be done to improve India's performances away from home.
With the conclusion of the 2014-2015 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, India has now lost six series away from home starting with their 4-0 drubbing in England in 2011. There has been an odd glimpse of brilliance like the win in Lord’s, the brave show put forward in Adelaide, the draws in Melbourne and Sydney in the ongoing Border-Gavaskar series and when they let New Zealand and South Africa get away in Wellington and Johannesburg respectively by failing to deliver the knockout punch.
Although on most of the occasions they have been abysmal. The only positive for India is that their home performances have been considerably good during this time barring the loss to England in 2012.
There is a cliche in cricket that a team’s batting is built around 4-5 pillars. India has found its three pillars in Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli and Murali Vijay. Rahane has a century in New Zealand, England and Australia and narrowly missed one in South Africa, Virat has been brilliant in all away tours except the one in England and to be fair to him not many have been able to conquer England on their first visit.
The biggest surprise for India in the last year has been the ‘monk’ Murali Vijay. He had a weakness outside off stump where he would drive at the balls even when they were not in his zone, but he has eliminated it from his system quite effectively. He simply doesn't play the balls he is not able to reach and forces the bowler to bowl to his areas.
India needs an effective opener and a keeper-batsman
MS Dhoni’s retirement adds to India’s existing problems. India, now, are in search of a good opening batsman, a solid number three, a number six who can face the second new ball and an effective keeper-batsman.
I still believe India needs to back Cheteshwar Pujara. He was good in South Africa but from there on has just fallen away. Shikhar Dhawan doesn't give you the impression of a solid opener whom you can back to play for your life like a Gautam Gambhir did during his peak neither does he play the role of an aggressor like a Virender Sehwag who could dwindle a bowler’s confidence.
India has an option in KL Rahul, but there are not many behind him in the waiting list. Rohit Sharma keeps on frustrating his fans all around the globe. With Suresh Raina back in the frame, he will have to score to be in the team. India can also play five bowlers if Wriddhiman Saha can bat with aplomb.
India’s bowling presents the biggest worry
India’s Achilles’ heel over the previous overseas tours has been their inability to pick 20 wickets. The seamers are unable to make an impact when the spinners are out of the game owing to the conditions. Ishant Sharma blows hot and cold even after playing 60 Test matches. India are better off playing him as a workhorse with two strike bowlers, but the quandary is that they do not have TWO strike bowlers at present.
Bhuvaneshwar Kumar has shown enough promise to become one in the future, but the likes of Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Varun Aaron have been way too inconsistent. But the worry for India is that these are the best seamers they can offer at present, there are not many options in the domestic circuit to challenge the bowlers playing at the highest level.
Can a seam bowler who can bat, be the person to open this Gordian knot? If yes, what are India’s options. Stuart Binny looks a more bits and pieces cricketer than an allrounder. Irfan Pathan has gone off the boil with injuries plaguing his resurgence during the Sri-Lanka tour in 2012. There is a good allrounder in domestic circuit in Rishi Dhawan, but it looks like he has yet not caught the eyes of the selectors.
India with the resources of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will keep on doing well in home matches, as in India they are able to pick 20 wickets and set up games for their batsman to register a win. The Pandora’s box for them will be the offshore tours and if India find a way to pick 20 wickets then there are enough positives in the top six to make them a force to reckon with even on away tours.