While we are on a roll right now, a stark statistic is that we haven't won a single Test series in Australia and South Africa in our entire history. While we are near-invincible at home, both these teams have beaten us at least once in the last 20 years.
When we look at most of our Test series outside the sub-continent, it is a tale of so many "buts".
We are great travellers, but…
India and Australia are the only two countries that have won World Cups and mini-World Cups on almost every continent in the cricketing world. We regularly win ODI tournaments and bilateral series in every country. We won a T20 World Cup in South Africa. We won the 2008 Australia triangular and also became the only team to whitewash them (in any international series featuring three or more matches) in the T20I series in 2015.
We have great Test batsmen. We have great Test bowlers. So why can't we convert that to series wins in Australia and South Africa? That's a great mystery.
The overseas Test series wins we have are West Indies (4), England (3), Sri Lanka (3), New Zealand (2) and Pakistan (1). That is still better than many countries but we totally botched our England record by losing 0-4 and 1-3 in our last two series there.
Our batsmen can play abroad, but…
Another myth is that our batsmen are sub-continental bullies and fall apart on foreign pitches.
This new team has played just a handful of Tests abroad and have begun really well. In Tests, Virat Kohli averages 62 in Australia, 68 in South Africa and 71 in New Zealand. Ajinkya Rahane averages 57 in Australia, 70 in South Africa, 54 in New Zealand and 122 in the West Indies. (Now you know why he was picked over Karun Nair!)
Even Murali Vijay averages 60 in Australia. After the second Test at Colombo, Cheteshwar Pujara averages 112 in Sri Lanka and Shikhar Dhawan 80! All the current batsmen have a few countries where they do well in.
But these are new players building their careers. What of the old guard? What about Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, India’s greatest Test batting line-up ever which could play on any pitch in the world?
They still gave us the 0-8 overseas debacle captained by the great MS Dhoni who before that had become only the second Indian in 40-odd years to win on New Zealand soil and till date is the only captain not to have lost on South African soil giving us our only tied Test series there.
India’s pathetic team performances totally defy logic when you add all the individual great batting performances.
We have no shortage of fast bowlers but…
Till the 1990s, we had very few pacers but their numbers just mushroomed from the 2000s. (The curious case of the vanishing quickies)
One feels they bowl better on flat Indian pitches and fall apart on green pitches. That is a great mystery that has plagued our bowlers starting with Kapil Dev. In the dead dusty tracks of India, Kapil took 219 wickets in 65 Tests. That’s pretty impressive.
One would have thought that he would've performed much better on green pitches, especially in the 1980s when it was a more dangerous time for Test batsmen. However outside the sub- continent Kapil picked up just 155 wickets in 45 Tests, which is just like his India performance.
Even our current crop of fast bowlers don't know how to make the most of green pitches. In the Johannesburg Test of 2006, S Sreesanth’s perfect bowling where his every ball landed on the seam, saw us win our first ever Test there.
In the Lord’s Test of 2014, Ishant Sharma’s fiery spell bounced England out of the match and we won, breaking the 0-8 jinx. Other countries have bowlers who come out with such spells on a regular basis, while ours do so once in a lifetime.
We hold positions of advantage regularly but…
In the 1997 Johannesburg Test, we set South Africa a victory target of 356. The match seemed to be in the bag at 95-7, but our opponents batted it out for the remainder of the day and ended up at 228-8 for a draw!
In 2006 we took a 1-0 lead at Johannesburg, but collapsed and ended it with 1-2.
In 2011 in Cape Town in the third Test, South Africa was 98-5 in the second innings. India was on the verge of a series victory, but South Africa finished at 341 and drew the match!
In 2013 at Johannesburg again, India set our opponents an improbable victory target of 458 but the hosts still ended at 450-7. You will be surprised to find the number of 1-0s we have squandered in foreign Test series.
Even in 2014 at Adelaide, we collapsed from 242-2 to 315-10 while chasing 364. This is a common Indian story on foreign pitches.
From 2003-11 we really competed but…
Check out our foreign Test series record in all countries from 2003 to 2011 beginning: 1-1 (Aus), 2-1 (Pak), 2-0 (Ban), 2-0 (Zim), 0-1 (Pak), 1-0 (WI), 1-2 (SA), 1-0 (Ban), 1-0 (Eng), 1-2 (Aus), 1-2 (SL), 1-0 (NZ), 2-0 (Ban), 1-1 (SL), 1-1 (SA) and 1-0 (WI). We either won most of our series or lost narrowly. We were never thrashed on foreign soil. That happened because the team had become more aggressive, found a bigger pool of fast bowlers and the batsmen finally started scoring consistently on foreign pitches. Then why did it suddenly collapse after that when we continued doing better in ODIs abroad and home Tests? That’s one of Indian cricket’s biggest mysteries.
India is yet to lose a single Test series in 2015, 2016 and 2017. However we head to South Africa soon and with such a talented team and strong bench strength, we don’t have any excuses not to win.
We have the talent and experience. We have had more than enough opportunities. Kohli is a settled captain now and began in tough Australian conditions with his leadership. Head Coach Ravi Shastri also has been around for donkey’s years and has got a great start. His contract also runs till 2019.
We have to win the home series with Sri Lanka, but our target has to be South Africa and beyond after that!
The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here