By Madhu Kshirsagar
Indian cricket teams have never performed consistently well overseas in Tests, and I have been following Test cricket for nearly 40 years. Yes, it has shown patches of brilliance every now and then mainly through individual performances. No doubt India has produced world class Test players in the past decades, but it has never produced a world class Test team.
So what is in the Indian psyche which prevents them from transforming their home form to the international stage? Believe me, every player and his dog will suddenly come back to form when they reach home. So what is it? Yes they have to play under alien conditions. Are the conditions so different that they are not able to adjust? Did they not prepare accordingly to face alien conditions? Failing to prepare is preparing to fail!
Indian Test teams have been in the preparation phase for the last 40 years; means they don’t prepare or don’t care. Yes you can blame tight schedules these days. But India has always had this indifferent mind-set, even before the advent of tight schedules and instant cricket.
Winning and losing is part of the game. But the team has to show enough fight in them to wriggle out of tight situations, create opportunities out of seemingly hopeless situations, and occasionally turn the tables on the opposition. These are qualities of a competitive team. The way India loses Tests overseas – just consider the last Australian tour and the previous and current English tours – is a sports fan’s nightmare. They just do not show the spirit of a competitive force on the ground. They seem to compete equally well these days on meaningless cricketing sideshows, but when it matters on the field they are almost always found wanting.
After being out of form for the Lord’s Test, they came roaring back to form for the rest of the series. Sorry, I couldn’t help that sarcastic remark.
True, all world cricketing teams of today are only lions in their own den. When they tour they generally fall apart. Some teams have been marginally better than others when touring but there is no huge difference. But some top sides at least show a lot of fight even when going down, and there lies the difference. India unfortunately has not measured up in this department as well.
The leadership conundrum
I have never been a fan of Dhoni’s Test captaincy as you might have noticed from my previous articles. There is no doubt that he is a boon to Indian cricket in one-dayers and Twenty-20, both as a player and a leader, but a curse to Test cricket as the leader. Furthermore, his wicket-keeping in Tests is falling apart.
Dhoni’s style of cricket, and hence his thinking and understanding of the game is second to none when it comes to the shorter versions of the game. Dhoni’s record as a player and also as a captain in one-day and Twenty-20 cricket is staggering, which includes all 3 ICC titles. His strategies and execution in the shorter versions of the game are far superior. His calm demeanour and his body language – or the lack of it – lends a rock-like steadiness during often chaotic situations. And when he comes out to bat towards the end, he is the only person that you will put your faith in to deliver – and deliver is what he often does – in his own inimitable style – slow first and demolition later. In short he is the most valuable cricketer for India in the shorter versions of the game.
But his record as a Test captain overseas is nothing short of abysmal. Sure, the fact that “a captain is only as good as the team”, is not something we should forget. But strategy, incisive thinking, marshalling troops and risk taking are also things that matter in a game. A captain can’t continuously make tactical mistakes and selection blunders and expect everything will sort itself out.
An average captain can lead a good team well, but it needs a good captain to lead an average team well. Dhoni unfortunately is not a good Test captain, and he is leading an average Test team.
But coming back to the reason why Indian players do not perform as well overseas; more so today than in the years gone by; it must have something to do with the new found treasure chest of IPL. India is the only country currently where Twenty-20 is played for sickeningly high stakes. This has clearly adversely affected the quality of young cricketers being churned out by the system. This rot has to be stemmed and pronto. If Indian cricket officials do not take corrective action to somehow curtail the adverse impact of Twenty-20 then they might as well give away playing Test cricket. Test cricket fans will not tolerate this complete indifference and lack of skill and application from young cricketers for too long.
But the most important reason for India’s consistent poor show overseas, in my opinion, is that it has never had the luxury of a Test class fast bowling option. Kapil was exceptional and Srinath, Zaheer Khan and others have had some success, but there never has been a fearsome or at least a functional fast bowling option from both ends. And spinners who are unplayable at home suddenly become toothless tigers.
At best some great and classy Test batsmen in the past have always brought joy to Indian supporters overseas.
But thanks to the new found IPL mania even that morsel of joy is in jeopardy.