India needs to reboot its Test team
India need to bring back some of their experienced cricketers. (From left) Harbhajan Singh and Gautam Gambhir © Getty Images
By Binu Thomas
Team India was once considered one of the best Test teams in the world. That was until recently and as recently as 2011. And then this happened –
The above stat shows India’s performance in Test matches since 2011. A look at the winners column and you know what we are talking about. India is poles apart while playing at home compared to their overseas tours. Home record – played 15, won 11 and lost two. That’s a winning percentage of over 73. While away records are abysmal to say the least. India have played 15 away games since 2011, lost 10 and won one with a winning percentage of around six. India used to be poor travelers but were never this bad!
What has changed?
1. Retirement / Dropping seniors — We boasted of one of the best and attacking opening batsmen in Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. One of the two usually used to score and score big. On loss of first wicket, we had ‘The Wall’ coming in at one down – Rahul Dravid. Then ‘God of Cricket’ – Sachin Tendulkar – used to come two down. Number five used to be the effervescent Sourav Ganguly – a shrewd captain and God of offside. If the opposition bowlers were in the form of their lives, a Very-Very-Special (VVS) player by the name Laxman entered four down. Could anyone beat that? But where are these players now? The openers are still playing, but at domestic levels. They are yet to break into the Test team after being dropped. The next four have retired. We now have a new crop of young and talented players eager to fill the legends’ boot. To be fair to the new lot, they have done very well in their own backyard. It’s the away form and the lack of playing away Tests is a worry.
2. Bowling – To be honest and brutally frank, India was never considered to be a bowling unit – at least from 1990s. We were / are / always will be considered as a batting unit with a set of bowlers who can defend totals and help the batting team as and when needed. And it’s not the bowlers who are to be blamed, it’s us. Our pitches are conducive to batting. We need runs and more runs. Asresult we produce a set of bowlers who are primarily defensive (so as to prevent runs being scored) than attacking (take wickets at the cost of runs). It works in India, but not overseas. And once in a while, our bowler decides to attack, he comes back with a sizeable tally of wickets (case in point: Ishant Sharma in New Zealand 2014).
What needs to change?
1. Bring back one / some of the experienced batsmen – Whatever be the current form of the player, one of the experienced batsmen need to be included in overseas tours. Personally, I would like Gambhir to make a comeback. Having an experienced batsmen can help the team in two ways – he will be in a better position to help the younger batsmen adjust according to the playing conditions and will act as pivot around which the team can bat and score. Sehwag won’t fit this bill. Who isn’t a fan of Sehwag’s batting? But we have enough Sehwag-type (read: attacking) players in the team already.
2. Bring back one / some of the experienced bowlers – Our spinners are exactly lighting the stage on fire overseas. But we still persist with the same crop. The reason – we don’t have enough bench strength. That’s true. We don’t have enough bench strength because we don’t provide them with opportunities to play (case in point: Amit Mishra). We need to bring back Harbhajan Singh. He was once the ‘turbanator’ remember? I see no cricketing reason why he can’t replace Ravichandran Ashwin overseas. Amit Mishra can also be given an opportunity. And develop Ashwin around them instead of throwing him in the deep pit.
3. Change the coach – When things are going wrong, the higher-ups need to make a decision of axing someone to show they mean business. You could replace the word “axing” with “sacrificing” and the idea remains the same. Duncan Fletcher, however, has had a lot of opportunities to change the losing streak. He failed. Infact, Fletcher hasn’t won a single away tour with India. The captain has failed too – but that’s for another day. The very fact that we have a ‘foreign’ coach is to help the youngsters cope better in an alien territory. One area where Fletcher was unlucky was that he took control of the team when we had peaked (after winning the ICC World Cup in 2011). The result will obviously hurt the morale of the players who also play in the One-Day Internationals. And we have a World Cup to defend, again in alien territories. Need a change and that too ASAP.
Cricketers like Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja and Ashwin will be the future legends of the game and they have it in them to ably replace the current legends. But they need experience and the aura of victory around them to continue the transition from top cricketers of the country to legends of the game.
(Binu Thomas is an analyst by profession and a Blogger and Sports Writer by passion. Avid Book Reader & Reviewer. He blogs at Bloggers Park. He follows Cricket, Soccer, Formula 1, Lawn Tennis. He is a lifelong fan of Rahul Dravid, Arsenal Football Club, Kimi Raikkonen and Andre Agassi. He writes about the current happenings in the game of Cricket and how it will affect all the stakeholders including the passionate followers of the game. He can be followed on twitter @Binugthomas)