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Why Team India needs to consolidate

How important is the Test win?

Cricketing jousts against Australia in its own backyard have always been a difficult proposition. India first sailed the seas, then gradually acquired air-miles but the results were eerily similar. Most games were lost, the odd triumph or draw was wrested and a Test series was never won Down Under until Virat Kohli's men altered the script. Right from the days when Lala Amarnath led his outfit on its maiden sojourn to Australia in 1947-48, India seemed fated to wilt. Seen through that historical prism, what Kohli’s men have achieved during the course of the four-match Test series, is hugely significant. India won the series at 2-1. But for the rains during the final clash at Sydney, the visitors may have walked away with a 3-1 verdict.

What helped India achieve this?

India sauntered in with its number one Test ranking. But the surround-sound grated on the ears. It ranged from those stray whispers of being ‘tigers at home, lambs abroad’ to the gigantic bag of expectations centred around Kohli’s men inevitably winning against an anaemic Australia, which missed Steve Smith and David Warner. The duo was banned for a year, following the ball-tampering crisis in South Africa. Yet, there is many a slip between ‘strengths on paper’ and what transpires on the field. India needed a clutch of enforcers to register its supremacy and it found those men. But none were bigger than Cheteshwar Pujara (521 runs) and speedster Jasprit Bumrah (21 wickets). The duo’s astounding performance and the vital contributions of Kohli, Rishabh Pant and Mohammed Shami, to name a few, ensured that despite suffering a blip at Perth, India stayed on top.

Which are the areas for improvement?

The middle-order’s relatively superior health and the incisive nature of the fast bowlers, who fared better than their local counterparts, masked a few inadequacies. These weak spots could hurt. The opening pair remains a work in progress. Regulars Murali Vijay and K.L. Rahul seem to have lost their touch, the last-named was a walking-wicket. Newcomer Mayank Agarwal (195 runs) did well and perhaps in future Tests he could pad up with Prithvi Shaw. Ajinkya Rahane’s inability to convert starts into the odd century remains a worry but he has been an able deputy to Kohli.

Are there issues about discipline?

Morale is high but the squad’s self-esteem could border on the delusional. The constant posturing by coach Ravi Shastri that this unit is India’s finest ever and even alluding that the latest milestone is bigger than the 1983 World Cup win seems to be stretching the limits of hyperbole. Kohli and some players have caught on to this ‘we-are-the-best’ anthem. The bubble they have built has its perils. The sense of immunity that seeped in has come back to haunt, especially after Hardik Pandya and Rahul’s misogynist remarks on ‘Koffee with Karan.’ It would help if the players remember that they have stepped into the massive shoes of men like Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid.

What’s in store?

Sporting history is replete with tales of triumphs against a pedigreed team, eventually causing upheavals in the hierarchy. India defeated the West Indies in an ODI at Berbice during the 1983 tour and perhaps it sowed the seeds of the subsequent World Cup high at Lord’s. India has already slipped into the ODI mode and just won the latest series against Australia 2-1 on Friday. Next, New Zealand awaits. After that, Australia will arrive in India for a set of ODIs. All this is a prelude to the World Cup in England from May 30 to July 14. Confidence is a mighty ally to have. Meanwhile, it would help if the players mind their language on television.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 9:32:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/cricket/why-team-india-needs-to-consolidate/article26038606.ece

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