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India’s Test Team Needs Some Fresh Ideas, Minds, and Personnel

After India’s loss in the WTC final, is it time to introduce some big changes in the Test squad?

Updated
Cricket
6 min read
After India’s loss in the WTC Final, is it time to introduce some big changes in the Test squad?
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“The only thing that we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”
Georg Hegel, German philosopher

This famous saying sums up India’s defeat in the ICC World Test Championship final. The tell-tale signs were there for all to see, but everyone got blinded by faith in the superstars.

The recent past has shown that India has familiar problems in their Test cricket away from home. There was no attempt to fix those problems. Instead, we believed in hyperbole and over the top assessment about the Indian line-up, while completely ignoring the quality of their opponent this time – New Zealand.

India has now lost their last three Tests and last four ODIs to New Zealand, which is separate to the hoodoo the Black Caps have over us in ICC events. All this trope about New Zealand being underdogs and having no stars is complete nonsense when you consider hard facts and recent trends of games between the two sides.

The writing was on the wall, but no one wanted to read it.

New Zealand players celebrate after being handed the ICC Test Championship Mace in Southampton on Wednesday.
New Zealand players celebrate after being handed the ICC Test Championship Mace in Southampton on Wednesday.
(Photo Courtesy: ICC)
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New Zealand were better because they had more depth in their line-up and were prepared to show more commitment with the bat. India appeared to instead show more bravado by naming their XI much in advance, much before the play even started eventually. That proved to be their undoing. Sure, that was India’s best possible XI, but sometimes you just need to appreciate the conditions better. Eventually, Ravichandran Ashwin picked up wickets, but that hardly justifies the presence of two spinners in the XI.

India’s problems have been staring in everyone’s faces for well over three years. No one seems to want to fix them and the issues will continue to hurt India as they proceed further in the Test series against England.

The finale was evenly poised much like the two-Test series last year in New Zealand, till India let their guard down. Last year New Zealand progressed from 225-7 to 348 in the first Test and in the second Test from 153-7 to 235. Both times New Zealand’s lower-order showed more commitment in trying to stay and score runs. So much so that a certified number XI, Trent Boult scored 30 in the second Test last year to drive home the point of how good their lower-order could be.

India’s lower-order on the other hand, in both Tests last year, caved in almost as if they were walk-in wickets. India struggled to dismiss the tail and gave up when their own tail had the opportunity to dish out a similar treatment.

That was lesson enough for India’s think-tank to put together a plan for the final this time around, against the same side. The same players were on show this time around too, but there again seemed to be a lack of planning to find out just how they could stem the flow.

Hence, New Zealand prospered from 135-5 and 192-7 to 249 to gain a vital lead of 32.

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New Zealand’s Tim Southee, centre without cap, celebrates with teammates the dismissal of India’s Jasprit Bumrah during the sixth day of the World Test Championship final cricket match between New Zealand and India.
New Zealand’s Tim Southee, centre without cap, celebrates with teammates the dismissal of India’s Jasprit Bumrah during the sixth day of the World Test Championship final cricket match between New Zealand and India.
(Photo: PTI)

With so much data and footage available to the Indian think-tank, just how the same issues keep cropping up again and again, is just simply astounding.

The problem has been a perennial one for Indian cricket since they started playing Test matches back in 1932. But surely with all the tall claims of being the best fast bowling unit and better than the West Indies attack of the 1980s, there must be some method to counter this problem.

Since 2018, when India’s bowlers came into vogue, we have had Keshav Maharaj, Vernon Philander, Chris Woakes, Sam Curran, Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, Southee, Kyle Jamieson and all making merry. These guys have managed to steer the ship in their teams’ direction in contests that have been even. You have to grant that India manages to dismiss the top-order quite easily, but the Test slips out of hand from thereon.

You can already believe Curran and Woakes would be requesting for no rest during the Test series against India because they are going to have a role to play.

All the credit to Bharat Arun, the bowling coach, for his role thus far in the last seven years. But surely something must be done about this issue.

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India’s Test Team Needs Some Fresh Ideas, Minds, and Personnel
(Photo: PTI)

Now, there might be some quibble about the fact that the batting proved to be the issue rather than the bowlers. But the fact is the batting has a whole different issue because it has been brittle over a period of time. They have just not performed outside Australia and India to some extent.

A lot has to do with the role that they want Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane to perform. Both the senior pros just do not know what is expected of them. Pujara is static at one end, Rahane starts off and then just fails to get going. Skipper Virat Kohli just has not got going for the last two years. That is the end of the batting. So, what more can you do with them! Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill put up a semblance of fight, but they are too fresh in their roles to be ascribed blame.

Rishabh Pant has decided he will be reckless at all times and once in a while when it pays off he will bask in the glory for a long time.

That’s the reason Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have to be more consistent with the bat, because of this very brittle middle-order. India is in a fix because they cannot play an extra batter because that weakens the bowling and an extra bowler messes the batting.

Hardik Pandya, the one man who could have fixed this conundrum is busy quarantining in a hotel in Mumbai preparing instead to make merry on slow, low Sri Lankan pitches.

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India’s Rishabh Pant reacts after losing his wicket during the sixth day of the World Test Championship final cricket match between New Zealand and India, at the Rose Bowl in Southampton.
India’s Rishabh Pant reacts after losing his wicket during the sixth day of the World Test Championship final cricket match between New Zealand and India, at the Rose Bowl in Southampton.
(Photo: PTI)

There are lots of issues to fix with the bat, and hence you demand more from the bowlers, because that appears to be an easier way to get around to being a Test champion.

Ishant Sharma was tired even as he ran in with a lot of purpose and for once Mohammed Shami appeared to be enjoying himself. With Jasprit Bumrah struggling to get his radar right, it was going to be a struggle.

Kohli was basically down to one-and-a-half bowlers. But what explains his defensive approach on the fifth day when New Zealand were in a pickle at 135-5? He started post-lunch with a spread out with Jadeja bowling. There was so much respect accorded even to Southee and Boult! Tactics like these just do not help India’s cause.

It is therefore hardly a surprise that they are now licking their wounds in Southampton, whereas the Black Caps are being feted around the world.

The loss in Southampton is just another in a long list in Test cricket in England since 2011 when the rot set in ten years ago.

India has now lost 12 of their last 15 Tests in England, winning just two! That is not a record to be proud of. India has now also lost three of their four Tests in New Zealand. Only in South Africa, India seems to win a Test sparingly.
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So, next time you hear hyperbole about India’s Test side, remember to dole out these stats because if you are a world-beating side in Test matches, you must perform everywhere.

India’s Test cricket needs a reboot and it starts from being able to find an effective seam bowling all-rounder, a quality long-format leg-spinner and of course a quick bowler who can knock over the tail. Batting also needs some fresh ideas, but those can be generated if you have newer minds thinking with them in the dressing room.

Every role has a lifespan and seven years with the current set of think-tank is long enough to now move onto the next lot. That’s when you can fix issues, rather than sweep them under the carpet!

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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