In 1968 we won our very first Test series on foreign soil. Since then we had very few victories on foreign soil. But when we would take a rare 1-0 lead, we would make sure that we used that to close out the series.
In New Zealand in 1968 we took a 1-0 lead and converted that to 3-1 in the end.Subsequently 1-0s versus West Indies in 1971,England in 1986 and Sri Lanka in 1993 ended up in series victories. The 1986 series ended with 2-0.
The only exception was New Zealand in 1976 where despite taking a 1-0 lead we ended up losing later on for a tied 1-1series.
Post-2000, while we have started winning with greater regularity on foreign pitches, we have still squandered our early 1-0 advantage many a times.
A look at some of them…
Zimbabwe, 2001: In the first Test at Bulawayo, we won comfortably by 8 wickets. While most Indian fans were thinking of a 2-0 at the second Test at Harare, things went wrong for India. After batting first and putting up 237, we had Zimbabwe on the mat at 110-5.
But in an opposition tail fight backthat would become a regular feature in the coming years, the tail nearly tripled that score to 315. In the end we were defending a low target of 157 in the fourth innings. At 119-5 India sniffed a chance but Zimbabwe won by 4 wickets in the end to square the series at 1-1.
The sad part was that the Indian batting comprised the greats of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly and still we couldn’t put up a 250+ score in any of the two innings.
West Indies, 2002:Here we took a 1-0 lead in the second Test of the five-match series and Indian commentators started talking of a 2-0 or 3-0. The reason for that was that before the series in 20 Tests, the West Indies had lost a whopping 15 Tests, one of their worst runs ever.
But India helped West Indies get out of that rough patch which also included 7 straight Test losses. In the third Test in the very first innings India crashed to 102 all down despite having the four batsmen as mentioned above.
India never recovered in that match and our opponents tied it at 1-1. India fought back in the fourth Test for a fine 513-9 but the Windies replied with 629-9 for a draw. In the deciding Test, India perished for 252 while chasing a stiff target of 408. We lost 1-2.
Australia, 2003: This was the biggest heartbreak of them all. Steve Waugh was playing his final series and India was expected to be whitewashed 4-0. We survived in the first Test thanks to a fine fighting century by captain Ganguly.
In the second Test at the end of the first day, Australia were at a commanding 400-5. Very few teams can even hope to draw a match after conceding 400 runs on the first day. “Can’t Lose” was a headline in one newspaper and a betting site offered a stiff 33-1 odds for an Indian victory.
After Australia’s 523, India was 85-4. After a triple century partnership between Dravid and Laxman and a 5-wicket haul by Ajit Agarkar, India chased down 230 after losing 6 wickets. No Australian spectator could remember the last Australia time was trailing 0-1 at home.
But we lost at Melbourne and couldn’t win in Sydney despite a mammoth 705-7 as we were denied a Test series win on Australian soil, something that hasn’t happened till date.
South Africa, 2006: When we took a 1-0 lead, legendary cricketer and commentator Sunil Gavaskar said that we had to make it 3-0.But India just couldn’t hold on to the advantage. In the next two Test, India crashed to 179 and 169 respectively in their second innings as South Africa won comfortably by 2-1.
Now in the current Test series with England we lead 1-0 again. Our opponents are at their lowest. England hasn’t won any of their last 10 Tests. Alistair Cook’s captaincy and batting is in the doldrums.
They are sorely missing Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell’s batting is shaky, while Stuart Broad looks jaded. India on the other hand is in sizzling form. Both Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma have taken 5-wicket hauls.
A whopping 8/11 Indian players have crossed 50 in at least one innings in the two Test matches.
So the question is whether we can press home our advantage or not.
India desperately needs to knockout England in the series for a revival of our fortunes on foreign soil.
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://http://sunilrajguru.com/