India can whitewash teams at home, but they slip on greener pastures

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Recent history shows that the subcontinental bullies' performance abroad is like chalk to their cheesy record in and around the Indian peninsula.

Team India has surfeited in Test cricket victory in convivial conditions for a while now. The true test awaits them on green bouncy wickets outside the subcontinent. | Reuters

The sky is blue, the warmth of the summer is slowly giving way to a rainy August and the sun is probably setting on India's terrific sub-continental season. What a tremendous season it was.

They were savage, cold blooded invaders on the rampage, unstoppable and unbelievably strong. Not the South Africans, the best travellers in Test cricket, nor the English, who won a series here in 2012, nor the Aussies could get past the Indians unscathed.

Finishing their home assignments, India flew to their neighbourhood and set about dismantling a haphazard Sri Lankan line-up. The whitewash inflicted was not just ruthless but cruel. 600 was crossed twice, an innings victory was achieved twice and India had a lead of over 300 runs in the first innings in all of the three Tests. Bear in mind that this is quite rare in Test cricket. Not for once did Sri Lanka have a glance at even a draw during the three match series.

This took India's consecutive series victories to eight, beginning from the 2015 series here in Sri Lanka.

 

Opposition

Home/Away

Series scoreline

Year

Sri Lanka

Away

2-1

2015

South Africa

Home

3-0

2015

West Indies

Away

2-0

2016

New Zealand

Home

3-0

2016

England

Home

4-0

2016

Bangladesh

Home

1-0

2017

Australia

Home

2-1

2017

Sri Lanka

Away

3-0

2017

 

There is one more home series scheduled against the Lankans this year but we can take an informed guess at the result of that one, don't we? After that, India step out of the sub-continent (read, comfort zone) and head overseas for Tests in South Africa, England and Australia, if rumours are to be believed.

So, does this no.1 side have the quality to finally overcome their overseas hurdles?

A look at the eight series wins here shows three away-series victories but only one of them came outside the sub-continent and even that was in the West Indies, which is still lucky to be playing the top-tier teams in Tests.

Both of the other away-series wins were against the Sri Lankans who are in freefall, when it comes to Test cricket, post the retirements of some stalwart players.

Kohli has had a fairly easy start to his Test captaincy. Test cricket, though, isn't as easy as Karunaratne's dibbly-dobblies. There are tough days and then very tough days in Test cricket. Kohli, the captain, has seen neither for extended periods. Things have been fairly easy for the Indians thus far. They will have their task cut out when they go to greener pastures, where they have an abysmal record.

 

In fact, save Kohli, Pujara, Vijay and Rahane, none of the other batsmen have stood up outside the sub-continent and India are not even sure they have the right personnel at the moment.

But is a change awaiting in the horizon?

Although all signs point to a change in this trend, it is only India’s home dominance that gives one the idea that they are prepared for any hurdle outside the sub-continent.

In reality, they still lack in quite a few areas. Before we get to that, let us check India’s Test record in the past few years.

India's last home season before this lasted between 2012 and 2013 when they played Australia, New Zealand, England and West Indies at home. They won all except the England series where a certain spin duo going by the names of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann conquered India.

In the other three series, India were their ruthless home-bully selves. They crushed New Zealand 2-0, Australia 4-0 and West Indies 2-0, neither losing nor drawing a single match.

During this period, India’s batsmen and bowlers enjoyed a feast. The table shows the averages, runs scored and wickets taken by the Indians during the period.

Batsman

Matches

Runs

Average

100s

Cheteshwar Pujara

12

1,203

80.20

5

MS Dhoni

12

746

53.28

1

Virat Kohli

12

744

49.60

3

Murali Vijay

6

499

55.44

2

 

Bowler

Matches

Wickets

Average

5-fors

Ravichandran Ashwin

12

73

24.49

5

Pragyan Ojha

10

51

24.96

1

Ravindra Jadeja

5

27

19.85

1

 

There was a lot of hype and talk before India’s South African tour in December 2013. But they nearly helped the Proteas chase down a World record score at Johannesburg in the first Test before losing the next by 10 wickets. Then followed three more series — in New Zealand, England and Australia — all of which they lost by fairly large margins.

In the period December 2013 to January 2015, India played 13 Tests and won just one game (at Lord's against England). They managed five draws but lost seven games and all the series.

The records of Indian batsmen and bowlers during this period is also worth analysing.

Batsman

 

Matches

 

Runs

 

Average

 

100s

 

Virat Kohli

13

1,312

52.48

6

Murali Vijay

13

1,080

41.53

2

Ajinkya Rahane

13

1,069

48.59

3

Cheteshwar Pujara

12

763

31.79

1

 

 

 

Bowler

Matches

Wickets

Average

5-fors

Ishant Sharma

10

43

35.0

3

Mohammad Shami

10

36

42.13

1

Bhuvneshwar Kumar

6

20

33.70

2

Ravindra Jadeja

7

18

46.16

1

Zaheer Khan

4

16

43.87

1

Ravichandran Ashwin

6

15

52.86

0

 

On close comparison, it is evident that the batsmen have played relatively well even abroad but the bowlers have come a cropper. Ashwin and Jadeja, who averaged 24.49 and 19.85 in the home season had horrifying numbers — 46.16 and 52.86. None of the bowlers averaged below 30 during this period.

And now, India are once again set to conquer the “outside” countries and are coming off the back of some terrific victories in the sub-continent.

But, beyond all this hype, the fact remains that India have always enjoyed similar home seasons. There are a few arguments in favour of India this time though.

The rise of Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami combined with Ashwin-Jadeja being nearly unplayable has evoked new hope. Pujara and Rahane have also grown in stature, as has their captain.

 

But weren't things eerily similar the last time too?

India were head over heels in joy at the discovery of Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Varun Aaron three years back but none of them could shoulder the responsibility abroad, when the chips were down.

It was no different with Ashwin and Jadeja, as statistics suggest. In fact, even during this home season, there were periods where Ashwin became impatient and resorted to a large number of variations, one of his major drawbacks on greener tracks.

The batsmen had looked decent even when India toured England, South Africa and Australia last time around. However, whatever advantage their batsmen secured for the team the bowlers were quick to squander. That said, there were periods when even their batsmen came under scrutiny. Kohli’s off-stump woes, Dhawan's hooking mania, Rohit Sharma’s horror judgement outside the off-stump all stand as evidence.

In fact, save Kohli, Pujara, Vijay and Rahane, none of the other batsmen have stood up outside the sub-continent and India are not even sure they have the right personnel at the moment.

Dhawan was rampant against the Lankans just like how he was against the Aussies in his first home season. But he turned out to be a sitting duck in South Africa later. Rohit Sharma, who had a horrendous run last time around is still in and around the Test squad and Lokesh Rahul is untested on tougher assignments.

 

Another factor that would haunt India is the absence of MS Dhoni at no.7. In spite of his poor returns outside the sub-continent in Tests, Dhoni could occupy the crease for fair amounts of time and do the supporting act. Will Saha be able to do the same?

Ashwin bats at 6 for India now. He has a solid technique alright but that is definitely at least one position higher for England or South Africa. The bowling, though, is the more worrying aspect.

So, do the 1500+ runs made by Kohli, Pujara and Rahane or the 100+ wickets taken by Ashwin and Jadeja in the past one-and-a-half years amount to nothing? Definitely not. But if Indian fans believe that this team is fully equipped to tackle any team on their home turf, they are sadly mistaken. India are sub-continental bullies and unless and until they show signs of really competing on tougher tours, that tag will remain intact.

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