False sense of complacency should not set in since performing outside the sub-continent is what will matter
India should not celebrate too soon. While the drubbing of a listless New Zealand side in the first Test here was a power-packed performance, the days ahead could challenge the side more.
England and Australia will put up a greater fight in the eight home Tests following the ongoing two-match series. Pounding a dispirited Kiwi side should not bring about a false sense of complacency.
In fact, India needs to look beyond the Test matches at home and should seek to build a side that delivers in all conditions. That is the real test.
Memories are rather short-lived in cricket, but India must remember the eight successive overseas Test defeats in England and Australia. And lessons must be learnt from those setbacks.
As India rebuilds, it would have been pleased with Chesteshwar Pujara’s technique, patience and innings building skills. It was Pujara’s 159 that set up the victory for the host.
It would be hard, very hard, to find a replacement for a giant such as Dravid at No. 3. These are early days yet in Pujara’s career, but he has certain things going for him.
The right-hander is comfortable off the back foot — not the case with several young Indian batsmen brought up on flat tracks and front foot play — and does play the horizontal-bat shots well. And when he defends, Pujara does so with feet movement that is measured and a blade that is straight.
But then, Pujara had a difficult time in South Africa during the Test series in the 2010-2011season. The combination of bounce and seam movement did appear to disrupt his body balance — such a crucial factor for a batsman.
Truth to tell, it would be difficult to assess a No. 3 on a long-term basis on the evidence of a series in India. So many careers have fallen away outside the sub-continent.
Yet, the chances are that Pujara could be different. He values Test cricket — this is critical in a young cricketer today — and appears to possess the mental attributes for a long haul.
Ravichandran Ashwin’s 12 wickets in the first Test took his Test haul to 43 from seven matches at 26.83. A closer look will tell you that 34 of these wickets were picked up in four Tests in India.
Now, it is not such a bad thing for a spinner to be a match-winner in India. Outside the sub-continent, where India normally plays three pacemen in the eleven, the lone spinner’s job is often that of a support bowler unless the pitch deteriorates.
This said, Ashwin should have operated with greater effectiveness and control down under last season.
There were, however, signs of improvement in Ashwin’s approach to his trade here. He focused a lot more on his stock ball — the off-spinner — and used the carrom ball, the top-spinner and the one that comes in with the arm as variations.
Ashwin has the variety, but appears to be employing his different deliveries more judiciously now. And he does vary his trajectory tellingly these days.
And Ashwin’s pairing with left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha has bamboozled the opposition in India. In four home Tests together — three against the West Indies and the first Test here — the two have scalped an astonishing 60 batsmen.
This duo of contrasting styles will surely bowl at batsmen who will use their feet and the crease better, but, for the moment at least, it would be hard to argue against the staggering numbers Ashwin and Ojha have thrown up on home soil.
Can they be as effective on tracks that provide them far lesser help?
Ojha’s line, flight and turn — he is using the crease better — have tormented the right-handers at home. Interestingly, all his 68 wickets in 15 Tests so far have come in the sub-continent.
There were worries in the Indian camp that the departure of Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman would weaken the team’s slip catching.
Calming the Indian nerves, Virender Sehwag plucked a couple of stunners in the slips and Virat Kohli, but for an aberration, was on the ball as well. The quality of Indian close catching lifted the spinners.
Here again, the real test for the Indian slip cordon would come on quicker, away tracks where edges fly thick and fast.