Courtesy: espncricinfo

The result of the test series & margin of defeat is enough to show to the world that the Indian team was outclassed & outplayed in every department of the game by the Kiwis. But did this all happen just because of Virat & Bumrah not being at their best or this was always coming just that the Australian series victory in 2019 shadowed everything? Not long before the Australian series Indian team were humbled in England with a 4-1 series defeat and before that 2-1 to South Africa, anyone who have followed both series with an eye for details will acknowledge the fact that both Bumrah & Virat where contributing at their best in both series & still we ended up in the wrong side of the result.

This should have been thought through by team management & selectors but as I said the Australian series seems to have acted as a smokescreen to hide all the underlying issues. In all honesty apart from the most common topic that does emerge to discussion on this is that the Australian team was without Smith & Warner etc, the condition/challenges in Australian shores were a lot different from the one in England & SA. Anyone who understands more about cricket in the SENA region will be able to understand the point I have made above.

So to me, this humiliating defeat(at least that is how the Indian cricketing world will see & speak about) is not a surprise and it was expected but lack of form of Virat & Bumrah did add more salt to it. If this was known to happen, what were the reasons, why it wasn’t addressed & how to address them? Let’s discuss each factor in detail,

1. Lack of Application from Opening pair: The way Mayank Agarwal went about his game in Australia was something to admire, he made his debut with no fear & it was all good. But experts or analysts who had observed his game with an eye for details would have found his technique to be too loose for conditions where excess swing & seam are on offer.

His natural run-scoring shots are to drive the ball on the up but doing so he gets into a positions where he drives too far away from his body.

Also except for the defense rest of his stroke-making as such, he does not play the ball under his eye line nor he allows the ball to come to him to play it late. On hard bounce tracks in Australia or in Asian tracks this technique flaw might not be exposed, but on green track & on conditions where swing is on offer his technique is no different than KL Rahul, Dhawan, Sehwag or any other Indian opener who found it tough on England & New Zealand. To add to it we have Prithvi Shaw, as I said above Sehwag found it not one bit easy in these conditions and Shaw won’t either.

This series was no different from England & South Africa tour as far as the opening pair is concerned, poor start continued. Which again can be said as one of the big the difference between us winning in Australia & loosing elsewhere.

2. Virat Kohli Factor & much more:

It is a no brainier indeed Virat Kohli had one of his worst series with bat in hand. But the manner of the defeat showed how badly this team is dependent on him and the impact he has had over the team in the last few years. Let us run back the clock, the series we Lost against SA the scorecard read 2-1 in 2018 it looked a close contest and the one in England the scorecard read 4-1 against us but it didn’t show the true picture as the series was closely contested. But both series had a common factor in Virat he held Indian innings by scoring tons of runs, even then we could only manage to compete but not win. Since the rest of the team fell apart around him we couldn’t win those tight games. But in this New Zealand series when Virat went missing, the rest of the team did not step up to even fill his void instead they fell apart which made things bad to worse as we did crash to an embarrassing defeat.

This situation does raise some grave concerns about this teams mentality & ability of the rest of the senior batsmen in the line up.

3. Rahane the myth&legend from 2013-14 Season:

Let’s run back the clock by 6-7 years, no one would have believed Rahane will be in this topic of discussion period. But that is how quickly time changes.

He had an Excellent tour of South Africa in 2013, an equally notable tour to Australia & New Zealand in 2014 and a decent English summer in 2014. The number of Runs he scored made legends of the game call him an overseas expert for the Indian team. In all honest words, he did score enough to be called one but equally failed to live up to expectation in India’s long home season(maybe being an overseas expert has its perks).Except for his contribution in the South Africa series in 2015 he went hiding for the rest of the home season. He looked out of sorts against England, New Zealand and Australia. Even against weak opposition in Srilanka, Westindies he could not make the most of it in the home leg. But his away runs saved him all the time, Indian legends defended him & backed him all the way. The likes of Gavaskar & Manjerekar went to the extreme by making a statement as “Rahane started his international carrier with overseas assignments so he is not able to adapt to home conditions and so he must be given a long run.”. All this went for around 2-3 years but came in Indian teams away leg period. But it was Rahane from home leg which turned up again.

Let’s but some stats into Perspective here,

Away leg 2013-14:

CountryNo of inningsTotal Runs scoredHighestAverage
in Australia634814758.00
in England1029910333.22
in New Zealand316211854.00
in South Africa42099669.66
Courtesy: espncricinfo

Home leg 2015-17:

CountrySeasonNo of InningsTotal Runs scoredHighestAverage
in India2015-201718100118835.75
Courtesy: espncricinfo

Away leg 2018-20:

v Australia2018-201972177031.00
v England2018-2018102578125.70
v New Zealand2020-20204914622.75
v South Africa2018-20182574828.50
v West Indies2019-2019427110290.33
Courtesy: espncricinfo

The above stats speaks for itself. Barring his contribution on South African series in home soil in 2015 and in the Westindies tour in 2019, he has been just a passenger in the batting line up. It is well known that Rahane does not have the game to excel in slow & low home conditions, his meager average on 35 in a long home season where 500+ scores were tanked by Indian team every second innings is a testimony for it. If he cannot contribute in away leg and he is also 31+ not getting younger any time soon, it is high time his selection must be questioned moving forward.

It is a well known fact that he is a very nice person on & off the field, even if we consider this factor he has been given 5 years from 2015-2020 it is a long run for any player to prove his worth. Virat as a captain did defend Rahane’s situation in press conference post NZ series, it is alright as he is entitled to protect his player. But his actual words were “The numbers/stats don’t matter to us as Jinks has helped us on situations we needed him the most”, not sure with such poor numbers how a player could have helped your team win games with his bat? It would have rather been better if Virat had said we will discuss Performance-related things internally & it is not something we are taking it for granted. But this statement throws a lot of darkness over the selection & team strategy which is already under question as Virat-Shastri pair seems to take wild decisions without any facts to back them.

More than Rahane’s performance the news to be worried about is does Virat or Shastri send the right message to Rahane so he could look forward to improving his game. If it was done would he still be playing this bad & holding on to his spot? The answer is not a good one for sure. This situation might rub into other upcoming players in the team too, some thing needs to be done if this is the case.

4. Inadequate Bowling combination/attack:

Few eyebrows might be raised here, but when we study in details this will make real sense I can assure you that.

Our pace bowling attack is of top quality no doubt but do we have bowlers who can make the maximum of the conditions on offer in New Zealand? The answer to it was shown in the series as much as the batting unit failed, the bowling unit baring Ishant looked out of sorts. Bumrah’s struggle to find rhythm post-injury, Shami’s erratic spell, Umesh lack of consistency and neither of our spinners could contribute were take us by a surprise. But for Bumrah the rest was expected, I would not blame the bowlers but would question selection policy here.

In the 1st game, Ishant made inroads but the rest of the bowling unit could not capitalize on it. But for Ishant who were the bowlers who had the conventional swing in their arsenal? Bumrah even at his best is not a conventional swing bowler his action& release is not equipped for it & him coming from injury made it harder, Shami, on the other hand, is more of a seam bowler with no conventional swing on offer. So practically we played our first game with one proper bowler suited for the condition and he bagged 5 wicket haul and we ended up facing humiliation. On the other hand home team went with 2 pacers who are genuine swing bowlers in Southee & Boult, with CDG offering his perfect medium pace swing and to add to it they brought in Jamieson who added more variety to the attack. So It was 4 against 1. In the second test, Kane & co went with 4 quicks and CDG by looking into conditions but on the other hand, Indian team lost Ishant to be replaced by Umesh even if we take it as likely swap, the only other change was Jadeja for Ashwin. I don’t have an issue with Jadeja over Ashwin but how does that solve any of our issues or help us win a game in New Zealand conditions? In the second game, it was 5 against 1(If we consider Umesh is good to replace Ishant else it is worse).

Our bowlers were able to take 20 wickets in the last 2-3 years no doubt on their ability. But if we look at the English summer or South Africa tour we lost, it was not just the batting, our bowlers always conceded more than average scores even when conditions were super conducive for swing/seam bowling. It must be agreed that this bowling unit is the best Indian team have had for years but the combination of the attack is not complementing each other on every condition. In Sub continent and Australian conditions, this attack will be lethal no doubt, one thing common here is neither of these conditions is dictated by lateral movement or overcast conditions. Good pace & hard lengths work wonders in Australia and on subcontinent skiddy nature of the track with low bounce and reverse swing are the main aspects to look out for.

But when the same bowling unit was made to play in England or South Africa or New Zealand they can’t out bowl the home team most of the time. I am not sure if this aspect is thought about by the team management of not, losing by small margins has camouflaged this grave concern.

Our batting unit cannot out bat them, our bowling unit cannot out bowl them how do you even plan to win an away series? The best selectors & team management could have done is to play the right team combination at least to give us a chance. Which starts with selecting proper bowling combinations according to conditions. For England and New Zealand Tour, two conventional swing bowlers plus a Bumrah/Shami and bowling all-rounder in Vijay Shankar or anyone who can bowl 120-125 Km to swing the ball with tight lines & can bat with solid intent must have been the combination. The question of Jadeja or Ashwin should not have come up, Jadeja having proved with his ability to bat must be in top 6, it should be a toss-up between Jadeja/Vihari. As we spoke about the Rahane issue, if Vihari can fill Rahane’s spot then Jadeja can be our No.6, it gives us room for a seam-bowling all-rounder at no.7 or no.8.

I don’t see some phenomenal players stepping up in the next year or two to take our batting unit to the next level. So we must win with our bowling attack & all-rounder team combination on such away tour games.

5. Pujara and his struggle against swing/seam:

Pujara has been our Hero in our Victory in Australian soil no one will ever forget that he will remain a hero for his efforts. But that does not take away his struggle in overseas conditions, the below record speaks for itself,

Away 2013-14 Season:

CountrySeasonNo of inningsTotal runs scoreHighestAverage
in Australia2014-201462017333.50
in England2014-2014102225522.20
in New Zealand2014-20144602315.00
in South Africa2011-2013528215356.40
Courtesy: espncricinfo

Away 2018-2020 Season:

CountrySeasonNo of InningsTotal runs scoredHighestAverage
in Australia2018-2019752119374.42
in England2018-20188278132*39.71
in New Zealand2020-202041005425.00
in South Africa2018-201861005016.66
in West Indies2019-20194602715.00
Courtesy: espncricinfo

His struggle in conditions where there is enough swing on offer is evident. Take away the 132 innings in England his average will plummet to less than 20. He even had a county stint before England tour in 2018 he had a horrid time with low scores all over him. This confirmed his issues persists and the stats back them again now. But Pujara cannot be blamed for everything but his failure is not something the Indian team can afford even when Virat plays at his best. The reason for it is almost well documented above. We have immature Opening pair, Rahane issue, also Pant/Saha neither consistent enough with the bat to solve anything, Vihari doing his part but is not world-class to cover the shortfall of others and to add to that Virat had a bad series this time.

Pujara is now the second pillar of our batting unit, he can hardly fail as the rest of the unit will crumble as it did in the New Zealand series. The only reason in England & South Africa series games were neck to neck it was Virat Kohli factor with the bat. Our brilliant victory in Australia was due to Pujara, Virat, and Mayank as opener shining in top order. So we won games in Australia with contributions from 2 or more members of the team, we lost close games in England & South Africa as only one man stood out. We got humiliated in New Zealand as that one man went out of form. In such a dier need any other player the team will look up to it will be Pujara, so my point is one Australian tour is not enough from Pujara as this team situation demands him to be a bigger hero. Every away series we head into Virat can only go into war with Pujara by his side, as he has no one else left of such quality in the line up to trust.

Overall this analysis for 5 elements shows this Indian team has some big holes to fill before getting labelled as world-beaters. One Australian series win did cover too many flaws in the team as well as poor decision making by team management & leadership group as a whole. It is time to wake up to accept our shortcomings and work on it rather than sleeping over one test series victory in SENA over an entire decade.

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