Virat Kohli's India need a reality check ahead of Australia tour: England series takeaways
The Indian cricket apparatus, from the team all the way up to the board, is likely to do some soul-searching over the next few weeks and months.
For good reason, too.
This was hardly an Indian summer for a team that lost four of their five Tests in England. It is all the more disappointing given their previous trip four years ago also ended 4-1 to the home team. At least, India’s players were inexperienced last time around. What excuse do they have now?
And yet, while 4-1 was an accurate reflection of the 2014 series, this one was more evenly poised than the scoreline suggests. Indeed, India came close to winning at Edgbaston, Southampton and The Oval. The only game in which India took a beating was at Lord’s.
The series could easily have ended 3-2 in India’s favour.
So, rather than get too down about the result – which is understandably disappointing – it makes more sense to take the positives from it, in order to better prepare for the tour of Australia at the turn of the year.
Talking of preparation …
India have yet to get adequately ready for a Test series abroad.
The team were in England, and in neighbouring Ireland before that, well in advance. But they spent much of that time playing white-ball cricket, rather than with the red ball.
They only played one warm-up game before the Tests got under way.
Yes, Ishant Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin and Cheteshwar Pujara spent a few weeks playing county cricket. But only Ishant used that experience to his advantage across the five Tests.
Ashwin began well, taking four wickets at Edgbaston, but fitness became an issue as the series progressed. Pujara got a superb hundred in Southampton but his county stint was a flop show.
Conversely, Kohli prospered despite spending most of his time, reserved for preparation, on the sidelines due to a back injury.
Still, one cannot overemphasise the importance of preparation enough.
Alas, the Board of Control for Cricket in India seems more eager to squeeze as many series as it can, than setting aside time for training and preparation. The sooner it puts cricket before money, the better it will be for the game – and its own coffers – in the long run.
Retain the batting core – for now
It may be tempting for the selectors to make wholesale changes now, but it might prove a foolhardy move with only a few months left before India leave for Australia. It is now more than any other time in this team’s history that they need all the experience they can get.
Opener Murali Vijay has the technique and the experience to excel in the five-day game – despite his failures in England. The same goes for Pujara and vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, who along with Vijay have played a combined 171 Tests.
None of them are mainstays in India’s limited-overs teams, and if they can be given as much time and resources to prepare for Australia, including sending them down under well in advance, they could all still serve Indian cricket well.
Ring in the changes if none of them perform.
… but end of the road for Dhawan
That being said, it is time to drop opener Shikhar Dhawan.
Save for scoring hundreds against Sri Lanka and debutants Afghanistan in less challenging circumstances and conditions, the left-hander has done little to inspire confidence in the selectors that he has Test calibre. He flopped in England, failed in South Africa before that, and has yet to prove his mettle in Australia.
Like Rohit Sharma, Dhawan has much to contribute in the shorter formats, and the selectors must make it clear to both players that their roles in India cricket will be to stick to limited-overs cricket.
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Consider fielding two wicketkeepers
What impact Jos Buttler’s recall into England’s Test side is having on Jonny Bairstow’s psyche and lack of runs in the second half of the series is still debatable. Is it insecurity? Or is it because the latter has not been the same since getting injured at Trent Bridge?
Either way, it makes sense to have two wicketkeepers in the side – as both players can bat brilliantly.
In the three Tests he has played, Rishabh Pant has shown the potential to be successful Test batsman – he became the first Indian keeper-batsman to score a hundred in England. Yet, the mistakes he made behind the stumps hurt India’s chances to win the series.
How he will fare in Australia, therefore, is a big question. Perhaps, it might be worth picking a natural-born keeper and have Pant play purely as a batsman. If Wriddhiman Saha is not fit in time, the selectors could give Srikar Bharat, the young and impressive Andhra Pradesh stumper, a series.
Kohli and team management all over the place
There are too many questions being asked of the management, which technically includes coach Ravi Shastri, Kohli and Rahane.
For instance, Ashwin’s selection for the Southampton Test was shrouded in mystery. Why was he picked in the first place? And when asked if he was unfit, why did Shastri and Rahane deny the fact, only for Kohli to confirm it later?
The regular chopping and changing of the line-up smacks of a confusion in their policy.
Also, Shastri must stop comparing this Indian team with their predecessors. To call them the best Indian side overseas in a long time is nothing but bluster, because the facts do not confirm this. At least, not yet.
At the moment, what he says comes across as spin, or worse, makes him sound delusional.