The Indian team could be facing a very difficult 2014. That is the unmistakable lesson driven home by the just concluded tour of South Africa. The main problem centres round the fact that the Indians are only playing Tests abroad in New Zealand, England and Australia and with their indifferent record away from home there could be more valleys than peaks.
With all their improved record abroad in the last decade and half overall there is little doubt that the Indians are poor travelers especially when it comes to Test matches. Sure they have won contests in Pakistan in 2004, England in 2007 and New Zealand in 2009 and shared a Test series each in Australia and South Africa since the start of the new millennium.
They have also won two consecutive contests in the West Indies in 2006 and 2011 but that really counts for little given the Caribbean decline over the same period. More to the point they have suffered clean sweep reverses in England and Australia over the period 2011-2012 have been beaten black and blue in New Zealand in 2003 and also went down to Pakistan in 2006 and Australia in 2007-08.
India hasn’t fared too well in neighbouring Sri Lanka too having lost two rubbers and squaring one over the last 12 years.
Even given the fact that no one really expected the Indians to win the ODI or Test series in South Africa there were a few discouraging aspects that do not augur well for the future. For one thing few would have bargained for the visitors losing the ODI contest by such comprehensive margins.
Defeats by 141 runs and 134 runs were difficult to digest and it is reasonable to assume that even the third ODI would have been lost given the fact that South Africa had notched up an imposing total of 301 for eight in 50 overs before rain prevented further play. Of course the Indians earned some sympathy because they were forced to plunge straight into the series without any practice match.
The general feeling however was that the Indians with the benefit of getting used to the conditions would do better in the Tests. Given that India have not won a series in South Africa on five previous visits it would have been too much to expect to do so this time.
Under the circumstances a 1-0 loss perhaps should not reflect too badly on the tourists but the fact remains that they could have done better. The first Test should have been won and the second need not have been lost. If they failed on both counts it reflected on the batting and bowling and this is confirmed by the stats.
The problem with the Indians was that very few came off putting a lot of pressure on the team as a whole. In batting for example only Virat Kohli, Cheteswar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane topped the 200-run mark and the inability of Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and MS Dhoni to get among the runs consistently cost the team dearly. The bowling was seen in poorer light and this was symbolized by South Africa getting 450 for seven on a fourth innings wicket at Johannesburg.
The bowling was again listless at Durban where South Africa got to 500 after an indifferent start and one shudders to think how the bowlers are going to fare in the eleven Tests the Indians will be playing in New Zealand, England and Australia over the next year.
They enjoyed just one brief purple patch at Johannesburg when South Africa slid sharply from 130 for one to 146 for six but a Test match – let alone a series – cannot be won through a single such feat.
Ravichandran Ashwin is proving to be a major problem. As the side’s leading spinner his inability to take wickets abroad is a major handicap. He is verily the master of all he surveys at home but in four Tests in Australia and South Africa he has taken only nine wickets at almost 75 apiece.
Going without a wicket at Johannesburg after bowling 42 overs was a matter of grave concern and the team’s think tank deserves kudos for dropping him for the second Test at Durban. It is to be hoped that Ashwin takes this in the right spirit for I am sure he still has a lot to contribute to Indian cricket – yes, even in away Tests.
Zaheer Khan’s comeback was only a partial success but I suppose he has to be persevered for some more time though one suspects it cannot be very long. The less said about Ishant Sharma the better though Mohammed Shami had his moments and in him, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav lies the future of Indian pace bowling.
Almost as big a concern as Ashwin’s bowling is Dhoni’s batting record abroad. There is a stark disparity in his home and away figures but he keeps his place as captain and wicketkeeper and so the Indian team has to soldier along with him.
Much the same can be said about Vijay and Dhawan unless they come a cropper in New Zealand. The batting will continue to revolve around Pujara and Kohli who clearly proved that they are the two best Indian batsmen at the moment. But the duo will require support for under continuous pressure they too could find run getting difficult.