India – Poor starters away

India Captain MS Dhoni
India Captain MS Dhoni

India maybe one of the top Test teams in world cricket at the moment, but the prime reason why they lost their No.1 spot in the rankings is that they could have won more series away, had they not lost the first Test of those series. As a result, India continue to be princes at home, but paupers away. It is alarming, but true as it has repeatedly happened over the years whether it is under the leadership of Sourav Ganguly or MS Dhoni.

The team might have begun winning more Tests away under Dada but series wins were on the cards, and the team could not do so well enough to achieve them. This trend actually has its roots from the tour of Sri Lanka in 2001 where India could have atleast drawn level a Test series there, had it not been for a crushing 10 wicket defeat in Galle. They did claw back at Kandy, but again lost in Colombo by an innings margin to lose a 3-Test series, 1-2. It continued in South Africa a month later when India lost at Bloemfontein despite centuries from Sachin Tendulkar and the debutant Virender Sehwag. This could also have been a drawn series and Ganguly might have been more successful as captain then, even as the tour was controversial.

It was then in England where India were outplayed at Lord’s in the first Test of the 2002 series, at the same ground where days earlier India had beaten England in an epic tri-series final. India’s lackluster performance did teach them lessons as they once again fought back to win a famous Test at Headingley, but the story could have been way different if India would have learnt how to adapt quickly. While a few months later, New Zealand also managed to thrash India in the opening Test of their duel by 10 wickets at Wellington, but this time they were whitewashed 0-2 by clinical performances from the home side.

That was the last time under Ganguly that India lost the first Test in an away series. It was after five years though, that this trend started all over again and it became a regular occurrence. On their previous infamous tour of Australia, just as this time, India lost the first Test of the series at the MCG by 337 runs. Although many believe India could have won the series due to the Sydney Test being marred with poor sportsmanship and umpiring decisions, an MCG win could have made that task simpler even as credit goes to the team to yet again fight back, at the WACA in Perth which is one of the fastest pitches in the world.

In 2008, India toured Sri Lanka after a span of seven years but the series outcome was the same and the manner in which it happened was ironically the same as well! The hosts won the first Test by an innings and 239 runs at Colombo. They went on to win 2-1, even as Sehwag’s double ton helped India defeat the hosts in the second Test at Galle. But life came a full circle for the Indian team as it was under the captaincy of Dhoni in Sri Lanka itself in the summer of 2010, that the team missed out on another golden opportunity for away glory. In what was the spin king Muttiah Muralitharan’s final Test, India lost by 10 wickets. A draw in the following Test at the SSC in Colombo shattered a dream of winning a Test series in Sri Lanka even as they successfully gained redemption in the final Test at the P Sara Stadium in Colombo to square the 3-Test series.

Towards the end of the same year, India toured South Africa after four years and it was supposed to be the clash of the champions with India being No.1 in the rankings then and South Africa at No.2, but close on India’s heels. However, India were thrashed as if they are a minnow side at Centurion courtesy a disastrous batting performance on the first day of the Test match. Though Sachin Tendulkar scored his 50th ton in the second innings, India lost the Test by an innings and 25 runs. Fortunately though India’s bowlers rose to the occasion to help the side win the following Test at Durban and as a result, they played their hearts out at Cape Town even as the match was drawn. India had to suffer from another drawn series as Dhoni’s unbeaten streak came to an end.

While in England and Australia this year, the team was undone by the hosts in and out. India’s poor Lords record continued as England won by 196 runs, reminiscent to that of 2002 but this time there was no comeback astonishingly as an injury-stricken India lost all the four Tests in the series to a side which succeeded them as the world’s No.1 Test side after the series win. And then it was the Aussies turn to end 2011 in style with an MCG win against India by 122 runs, which could be considered an upset as India had played well in the two practice games and on paper, is a much stronger team than Australia.

Under Dhoni, this trend has been seen in the last two years frequently even as there was a drought in the first 18 months of his captaincy. The BCCI has tried to act swiftly by sending senior players or only-Test players for instance early to acclimatize themselves with the conditions in the countries. Perhaps, it is the fact that to play away is always a tough ask and the team needs matches against the hosts itself to know how to play in those pitches and conditions. All India can do is to strategize well by widening their sources to gain vital information about their opponents and continue to practice way before the series starts so that they can begin their tour in style and hopefully win.

Otherwise, I do not see this Indian team being one of the best Test sides of all time or for that matter, regaining the No.1 spot in the near future.


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