By Karthik Parimal
The Indian cricket team’s performance since the past few months has been hard to digest. Although it is understandable that sometimes a team can have an extended lean patch due to unfortunate circumstances, the fact that India has gone down meekly seven times in a row overseas is disturbing, to say the least. The margins of defeats keep fluctuating between bad and worse. These days, almost every Test playing nation has become tough to beat at home. To be one of the top teams in Test cricket, a team must be dominant not only at home but also overseas.
Historically, India have been poor overseas travelers. But India were also a tenacious side known to put up a fight. Sadly, the same cannot be said now. Eight years ago, a side with similar abilities led by Sourav Ganguly managed to become a thorn in the flesh of the Steve Waugh led Australian side. In fact, India managed to level the series against an Australian side that was considered invincible back then, plainly owing to a positive mindset and attitude of the Indian players.
Of late, India are not an unbeatable team even when playing Tests at home. Of the three Tests that India played against the West Indies two months ago, it managed to win just one and draw the remaining two. If India was really invincible at home, it should have ruthlessly whitewashed the West Indies. That didn’t happen. It is clear from this that the problem lies elsewhere; probably in the combination of the team or its preparatory methods, and not the conditions. West Indies too are a poor team when they play overseas, but that didn’t stop them from putting up a fight against India and losing respectably. India’s heavy margin of defeats when playing abroad is a testimony to the fact that there may be something apart from the overseas conditions that is a cause to worry.
Top teams like Australia, England and South Africa are excellent at home too and yet cannot be taken lightly even when they are playing away. In the last two years, Australia has played nine Tests away from home and lost just three. Of those three, it lost one against India by a narrow margin of just one wicket at Mohali. South Africa too lost by an innings and 57 runs against India at Kolkata two years ago, but not before beating India at Nagpur by an innings and six runs. England’s overseas defeat in Tests came two years ago in Australia - by 267 runs. However, England eventually went on to beat the Aussies 3-1 in that series. These teams have proven that they can be a force to reckon with even in alien conditions.
When Australia toured Sri Lanka last year, not many gave them a chance. To topple Sri Lanka in its own backyard was not going to be a cakewalk considering the enormous confidence Sri Lanka drew from its fairly successful run at the World Cup. Moreover, Australia was a team that was in its transition. However, that did not stop the Aussies from playing their hearts out and snatching a surprise victory over the Sri Lankans in the Tests and also the One-Day Internationals (ODIs). They later toured South Africa too and managed to level the series against Graeme Smith’s formidable side.
The point here is that teams like Australia, South Africa and England are willing to compete at the highest level when playing away from home. They give the home team a run for its money more often than not. Also, many overseas players these days easily acclimatise to the subcontinent conditions, thanks to the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Champions League T20 (CLT20). As a result, teams touring the subcontinent in the future cannot be taken lightly considering that the subcontinent pitches and conditions are no longer alien to them.
On the other hand, the Indians will have to raise their game to a whole new level when touring overseas from hereon if they are to regain supremacy. They might still go on to dominate at home, but in future the crown may belong to the team that can win when playing away from home.
Considering that India isn’t touring much in the near future, it could augur well for the team if the younger players opt to play county cricket. This will help them understand and acclimatise to tough alien conditions. Zaheer Khan and Pragyan Ojha are two fine examples of current players who have benefited immensely by playing county cricket.
Merely replacing the players will not solve India’s decade long problem of performing below-par outside of the subcontinent. The root cause of the problem has to be addressed. The younger lot must be exposed to unusual conditions early on that can help them prepare accordingly. When this young lot of player tour overseas in the future, they can capitalise on the experience gained and thrive in such conditions rather than to fall victim to it. After all, success comes when preparation meets opportunity.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. This 23 year old graduate student, pursuing his Masters in Engineering, could be an appropriate example of how the layers of what inspires, motivates and keeps one happy run deeply in our daily lives. He, unlike others, is not too disappointed about not making it big by playing for the country, but believes that he plays the sport every day with his heart by watching and writing on it)