Why current schedule might hurt the Indian team over the next year
India might be winning matches but their steady diet of limited-over games might hinder their chances of doing well in the upcoming tours.
Sunday league kick about is not exactly adequate preparation ahead of a UEFA Champions League final. A daily walk is not what you should be doing before taking part in a marathon. So whoever thought India's steady supplement of white ball cricket is the way to go before 13 gruelling Tests home and away to end 2016 clearly wasn't thinking straight.
19 T20Is and 8 ODIs. That's what India's schedule in the first half of 2016 looked like ahead of the last six months of the year where they will play 13 Tests against West Indies in the Caribbean and at home against New Zealand and England. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that the first six months may not be ideal for the challenges that lies ahead.
Yet, the success of the side in Australia in the shortest format of the game, against Sri Lanka in the T20Is, the Asia Cup and the World T20 might be enough for everyone to think that everything is rosy, especially because they are winning. But, winning isn't everything.
A TEST-ing time ahead
India might have won 9 of the last 10 Tests at home, drawing the other, but their last real test at home came against England in 2012. And despite winning the first Test by nine wickets, they lost the next two as they fell into the web spun by the English spinners and eventually lost the four-match series 2-1.
Games against the current Sri Lankan side and Zimbabwe might seem like good practice on paper as the games test your bench strength but since the teams hardly break a sweat, irrespective of the side that takes part, it isn't as big a test.
The constant tours to Zimbabwe might have proven to be a good breeding ground for new players, but that is the last thing you'd want ahead of three crucial Test series where you will be tested by two of the most competitive sides in the longest format of the game.
The dismantling of the Proteas at home, who were the best side away from home might have set a marker for the rest of the touring sides, you still have to be in good form to beat the likes of New Zealand and England.
Although a whitewash over the West Indies, where they travel to next, for a four-Test series will be enough to seal top spot in the Test rankings, as Virat Kohli himself maintained, rankings isn't the only thing that matters. Kohli said: “High standard has many definitions. I don’t think our high standards would be achieved if we gain the No: 1 spot in the rankings. We don’t play cricket for rankings. Rankings are the things which come with success. It is important how you play cricket on the field and execute your plans.”
Contrasting challenges lie in wait
West Indies might not be in the best shape themselves ahead of the tour against India, having played the World T20, followed by IPL, a 50-over tri series against Australia and South Africa and the Caribbean Premier League, but at home as they showed against England and Australia, they are still a match for most sides.
England are coming off the back of a convincing performance against the Proteas away from home, against Sri Lanka at home and while New Zealand may be under new leadership but with one of the best new-ball pairing in the world and a settled batting line-up, they will be tough to beat, irrespective of the surface in question.
Another issue with the schedule with first six months of 2016 wasn't just that white ball and roads doesn't prepare them for the challenges ahead but it also means two of their key batsmen in the longest format of the game, Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara, haven't really had much time in the middle for the national side.
For a very long time, the Indian teams for both Tests and ODIs were largely similar. But having finally realised that that is not the way to go forward, depriving your key players of game time ahead of such a crucial set of tours doesn't reflect well on whoever is doing the scheduling for games that India take part in.
While India may come out and win all three Test series and make a mockery of the scheduling of matches, it still doesn't change the fact that they could have been better equipped for the challenges they will face. While a seasoned performer might be able to get away with inadequate preparation, the riveting nature of Tests might make it difficult for India to do the same.