In Stats: India’s Success Shouldn’t Mask All the Cracks That Exist
The Indian team management have many issues to assess ahead of the big Test series against South Africa.
Even before the first ball had been bowled in the Test series between India and Sri Lanka, members in the Indian camp made signals that they were using the series against Sri Lanka as preparation for the Test tour of South Africa early next year. Preparation isn’t a bad thing; but there are ways and means to prepare for sterner challenges.
In sport, there is no room for disrespecting an opponent; history has always advocated ‘underestimate an opponent at your own peril’. While underestimating Sri Lanka didn’t quite hurt Team India, they certainly weren’t able to repeat the performance one got to see on the tour of Sri Lanka earlier this year, when Team India clinced the series 3-0 in just eleven days. Virat Kohli’s lads, who were expected to whitewash the visitors yet again, could only win the series by a margin of 1-0, and as a result definitely lost out on a few ratings points in the ICC Test rankings.
However now that the series is done and dusted, it is time to look back and take stock of what positives came out of the series – from the South African tour’s point of view, or the shortcomings the team management needs to address.
Openers: Problem of Plenty
Team India has three performing openers – and each of them makes a very good case for selection. While KL Rahul and Murali Vijay are technically sound and have a very good temperament, Dhawan comes with the reputation of being able to score at a brisk pace and decimate opponents in quick time. Come 5 January, coach Ravi Shastri and captain Virat Kohli will have a tricky decision to make in choosing two from the three openers.
Ajinkya Rahane’s Drought
The one major concern for Team India from this series against Sri Lanka is the form of Ajinkya Rahane. The Mumbai batsman – who is the Test team’s vice-captain – accumulated only 17 runs from five visits to the crease. Scores of 4, 0, 2, 1 & 10 may indicate that Rahane has not spent enough time at the crease to indicate poor form.
But a closer study of his innings indicates that there isn’t a pattern to his dismissals, but instead points to lack of confidence and application. Only one of his five dismissals in the series can be attributed to a good delivery; the remaining four dismissals were the result of poor footwork, losing concentration or wrong choice of shots.
Rahane has the ingredients – technique, temperament and skill; for him to get back to scoring runs, he needs to retain that belief and then spend some time in the middle. It will be interesting to see if Rahane gets an opportunity in the one-day series against Sri Lanka; he needs time in the middle – and giving him the chance to bat in the top three will be in the best interests of Rahane.
Ashwin’s Mixed Returns With the Ball
The series against Sri Lanka is the 12th time – in the 19 Test series he has played in – that Ashwin has emerged as India’s highest wicket-taker. Ignoring the first Test in Kolkata, where he didn’t have too much to do, there were at least three other periods in the remaining two Tests when Ashwin wasn’t as potent as one expects him to be.
Even on the final day of the series, Ashwin and Jadeja were expected to run through Sri Lanka; but they couldn’t. Should that be a cause for concern? Further, off the 12 wickets Ashwin took in the series, 5 were of lower order batsmen. So, should we really categorise Ashwin’s performance as a success, or was it merely an acceptable performance?
One has observed that when Ashwin doesn’t take wickets early on, he tends to become impatient and begins to experiment with his bowling. In South Africa, the conditions definitely won’t assist Ashwin’s style of bowling, and hence he needs to change his mind set to that of a support bowler – someone used to give the quick bowlers a rest or used by the captain to give him control and build pressure.
Ashwin’s Poor Returns With the Bat
It is likely that India will field only five specialist batsmen in the Test series in South Africa, and it is therefore important that players like Saha and Ashwin contribute runs. Ashwin’s form with the bat his year so far doesn’t inspire too much confidence; it is important that Ashwin sits down and figures out how to score runs against the Proteas bowlers.
Saha Needs More Batting Time
The presence of Wriddhiman Saha behind the stumps gives bowlers a sense of security, for they know very few opportunities will go abegging. So was the case in this series; Saha was safe as a house – pouching difficult opportunities and converting them to success for bowlers.
However, the Indian team management should be concerned that he hasn’t had enough batting time in the series, and will possibly not get to spend too much time in the middle until he sets foot in South Africa.
Potent Pace Attack
The pecking order – in the context of India’s fast bowlers – has certainly changed through the course of the series. Umesh Yadav, who was among India’s first-choice bowlers, has slipped down the order owing to his poor bowling form, while Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have climbed up the ranks and put their hands to be considered among the first-choice bowlers.
While Ishant has discovered the rhythm and hit a purple patch, Bhuvneshwar has improved on his pace, is able to work quick yorkers and also move the ball both ways. Come South Africa, one shouldn’t be surprised if India’s pace attack reads Shami, Bhuvneshwar and Ishant.
Poor Catching Form
There’s an adage that catching can be a good indicator to the health of a team. If that were used to judge the current Indian team, then all is definitely not well. India put down at least 8 catches in the Test series against Sri Lanka – and the most worrying of them is the fact that 4 of them were put down in the slip cordon by individuals one would usually consider safe catchers.
Team India experimented with the slip cordon – using a variety of fielders there, and that only compounded the problem. Slip catching is a specialist position – and it is very important that the Indian team management identify the individuals they want manning the first slip, second slip and gully positions.
Vijay and Pujara’s Real Test Begins in SA
Murali Vijay cemented his place in the Test side with two scintillating centuries in the Test series against Sri Lanka and Cheteshwar Pujara showed yet again that he is the rock of the Indian batting line-up. Pujara notched a century and a fifty in the Test series.
However, Vijay and Pujara have recorded a batting average (away from home) of 36.85 and 38.52 respectively. They will be certainly hoping to improve their overseas record from the tour of South Africa.
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