“Dhoni finishes off in style! India lift the World Cup after 28 years!”
Images of an emotional Sachin Tendulkar sprinting towards MS Dhoni are constructed in our minds, when we hear these words, mouthed by Ravi Shastri. Cutting back to that moment, on the night of the 2nd of April, we remember jumping in joy and elation, celebrating India’s World Cup triumph. During those crazy celebrations, did we, in our wildest thoughts ever imagine India’s fate in their then upcoming tours to England and Australia? The answer at that moment would have surely been a NO! Who could have imagined the number one test side being whitewashed in England and Australia?
In between the two World Cups, the Indian side has toured England, Australia, New Zealand , South Africa and the West Indies. In all, they have played 15 overseas test matches, and appallingly, have emerged victorious in just a single test. The worse stat is yet to come. The Indians have lost ten of those 15 away tests, and in just one of those losses, the team looked competitive. The rest nine loses depicted a sorry tale for Indian cricket lovers. Now though, seven months before the World Cup, lies an opportunity of redemption for the Indian side.
To be fair to MS Dhoni, the English side which whitewashed the Indians was the best English side. No other English side was as complete as them at that moment. Their openers and middle order batsmen had piled up freakish numbers before the tests, and continued to do so. Their seamers had annihilated almost every batting lineup with their discipline and control. And if that was not enough, their spinner was the best in the world at that phase. On the other hand, the Indians, were without their swashbuckling opener, Virender Sehwag for the first two tests. Their best bowler had deserted them on the first day of the tour and the spinner was in the worst phase of his career. And to make matters worse for the tourists, their stalwart batsmen were in the twilight of their careers. Just one man took the English bowlers head on. It was the Indian Wall, Rahul Dravid who stood tall for them. Dravid amassed three centuries in the series. Almost all of them were brought up, with the tail.
However, this time around there seems to be hope for this young Indian side. The Indian side may be short on experience but they are full of hope and positivity. Only three members of the Indian squad have played test matches in England before. Barring Ishant Sharma, the captain of the bowling department, the Indian seamers together have an experience of just 13 test caps, with two of the seamers yet to debut. The middle order may not have played with the red Duke Ball in England, but their run scoring ability will make Indian fans hopeful. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli did terrifically well in South Africa and piled up the runs. Kohli had a great New Zealand tour as well. In the last couple of overseas test tours, Kohli averages a staggering 69.4 with two tons and a 96.
The Indian bowling did manage to trouble the Proteas and Kiwis on several occasions. In both the tours, it was just one poor show with the ball which spoilt the party of the Indians. The best part for Indians was that Ishant Sharma; the lanky pacer bowled with discipline, and was the best seamer on display. Ishant during the couple of tours was the pick of the bowlers and took 20 wickets at an average of 34.5. Though the average was high, it was still lower than his career average. The one positive aspect about Ishant has been his fitness and his ability to bend his back and bowl the long spells. His fitness has never been doubted. More often, its his line and length which makes him an easy pick for the set batsmen. If Ishant manages to sort that issue in this tour, then the Indian fans will surely have something to cheer about.
It will be interesting to see the team combination of the Indians. India’s weak point has been the inability to take 20 wickets. For that, 5 bowlers are a must in the side. If MS Dhoni goes in with 6 batsmen and five bowlers, then it will be Stuart Binny who would make his debut at Trent Bridge. The case of R.Ashwin getting a game too cannot be ruled out. But that may only happen if the pitch is as arid as a desert. Otherwise, it’s the tried and tested means of seven batsmen and four bowlers which will complete the Indian side.
Players to watch out for:
If there’s anyone in this side, who can attack a rampaging James Anderson, it’s Virat Kohli. Kohli was phenomenal in South Africa and New Zealand. During the Johannesburg test, Dale Steyn looked like just another bowler against Virat Kohli. His ability to counter attack in any situation makes him one of the most feared batsmen in world cricket. Not a single weakness has been spotted in Virat’s technique and run making ability. His drives and pulls are a treat to the eyes. Spotting a weakness in Kohli’s batting is as rare as spotting a swimming pool in a desert.
The Indian batting unit may not have Rahul Dravid, but it surely has a Pujara. It may be too premature to compare Pujara with the great, but the signs as of now have looked promising. Pujara’s most significant asset has been his temperament and ability to play the ball on its merit. His 153 against the South Africans was filled with an array of strokes all over the carpet. In New Zealand, Pujara was troubled by the odd ball coming in and did look a tad uncomfortable. But in the meantime, Pujara would have surely worked out on that flaw. Pujara’s ability to counter the new ball from Anderson and Broad will pretty much sum up India’s response to the English bowling. Pujara may even be given the role of the opener if the regular openers fail. But that seems quite unlikely.
Indians have always missed the presence of an all rounder. Jadeja’s presence in the side may well be the answer to those worries. Jadeja’s credentials as a bowler are enough to cement his place in the side. But its his numbers with the bat, which have disappointed Indian fans. A batting average of just 20.77 surely doesn’t do justice to Jadeja’s batting talent. In the England tour, he may add on vital runs while batting with the tail, which may be decisive. Jadeja with the ball would be crucial. His six for on the green Durban track would be fresh in the minds of the Indian fans. If he can replicate any of that success, then the Indian team would have a major strategic gain.
In the tour of 2011 to England, it was Praveen Kumar who was the pick of the Indian bowlers. His outswingers troubled every English batsman. This time around, there is Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, a bowler from the same state as Praveen. Bhuvaneshwar is 8-10 km/hr quicker than Praveen and his accuracy and discipline makes him a must have in the side. Kumar’s ability to bowl long spells makes him an asset. In the 2013 Champions Trophy, played in England, Kumar got rid of left handed batsmen with utmost ease. It will be interesting to see, whether Kumar makes the English skipper Alastair Cook his bunny or not.
Since his debut, Shami has looked like a genuine wicket taking bowler. The reverse swing which he generates makes him a customer difficult to negotiate. In South Africa and New Zealand, Shami looked threatening to a great extent. But his control over his outswing deliveries was minimal; and this helped the batsmen to a great extent. In England, he would be required to bowl aggressive spells and the conditions too would suit his style of bowling.
This time, India may feel fortunate, as they would be facing an England side low on confidence. The Sri Lankans have defeated England at their home turf. Australia managed to stun the Proteas in their own backyard. And recently, the Kiwis too defeated the West Indies in their own backyard. Its now time for the Indians, to get rid of this massive overweight monkey off their back; when it comes to winning overseas. No better place than England to do this. The Indians would want to finish their nightmare, from where it all began for them.