From 2015 until the end of 2017 India seemed invincible. After victories against Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka at home and away victories against Sri Lanka and the West Indies it seemed like India could do little wrong. In particular, India’s batting strength had been regarded as one of the most complete in recent times. However since January 2018, India has looked like a team completely lost outside home conditions, with issues ranging from fitness, preparation, team selection and most importantly, batting strength.
During their dominance, Virat Kohli had established himself as one of the best test batsmen where he averaged over 64 across a number of competitive series. The test squad also faced a selection headache; with three openers all performing exceptionally well forcing one of them to play the role of a reserve opener. Cheteshwar Pujara had been brought back after being dropped in the final test against Australia in 2015. He responded by averaging close to 60 throughout 2015 to 2017. Ajinke Rahane, India’s vice-captain had seen a dip in form in 2017 but was considered a reliable lower order batsman. Rohit Sharma had also been given a run in test cricket and responded with a number of key contributions. It seemed like the Indian test batsmen were ready to brace what was to lie ahead of them against South Africa at the start of 2018.
However, as the Indian team found out once again, home form matters very little when it comes to touring overseas. Despite dominance in home conditions, Indian teams have not fared well overseas particularly where conditions are dissimilar to home. Dhawan’s average drops from 52 to 27 in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa; Vijay’s drops to 34 and Rahul’s drops to 17. Pujara’s sensational average of above 50 down to 27 when playing in foreign conditions. The story is a little different for Ajinke Rahane. His average in conditions dissimilar to India is impressive at 44. However, his average in England is in the mid-20s. To add to this, Rahane’s form in 2017 was amongst the worst in the team, with an average of 35. With his omission from the test squad in South Africa, it seems like the door has been closed on Rohit Sharma at least for now with real struggles in South Africa in his technique and temperament.
The one batsman who has shown resilience and form in overseas conditions is Kohli. With an average of 51 in foreign conditions, he has demonstrated his ability to adapt his batting. This was best exemplified through his majestic innings in the first test against England where he put the entire team on his back in both innings. Despite his previous failures in England, Kohli showed an ability to work through tough periods and make the most of the chances he was given. Unlike other batsmen, Kohli has shown that he had improved his batting and was reaping the dividends with his display in the first test.
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For the Indian test team to be regarded as great they will need to find success in unfamiliar conditions. The current team is vastly experienced and aside from Kohli, no one should be assured a spot in the test squad based on their away record or their extended lack of form. It would be a mistake if no changes were to India’s batting line-up for future series.
Futures Test Lineup
India has persisted with the same group of players and it has resulted in disappointment. Instead of thriving they have looked lost and hopeless in their approach against the moving ball. To make matters worse, this is not the first occasion where the same batsmen have struggled overseas. If India is to move forward, the time has come for new players to debut.
Shaw has demonstrated that he has the makings of a future test opener for the Indian test team. In his short career so far Shaw has already accomplished the following:
- Average of 61 in first-class cricket (in only 13 matches, however)
- Debut 120 in a fourth innings semi-finals in Ranji Trophy
- Multiple centuries against West Indies A
- Average of 60 in England during the India A tour
- 136 against South Africa A
- Under 19 winning captain
Shaw has shown something which has been missing in the current squad which is temperament and an ability to work through technical issues. This was best demonstrated in Test match against South Africa A, where he made adjustments to his drives through the off side. India has a history of backing young players based on talent. Sachin Tendulkar is the obvious player that comes to mind. However, more recently a player like Hardik Pandya has been backed due to his style of play and raw talent. With the openers failing to inspire much confidence overseas, Shaw should be seriously looked at to be introduced into the test squad.
Along with his current opening partner for the India A team, Agarwal makes a very good case for an inclusion in the current test team. Some of the reasons to include Agarwal include:
- The highest run scorer in the 2017/18 Ranji Trophy (with over 2000 runs)
- Three List A hundreds in England (one against West Indies A)
- A double century (220) against South Africa A
- An average of over 50 in List A and First Class cricket
- A match-winning score of 90 in the Vijay Hazare Trophy
Agarwal has already been noticed by chief selector MSK Prasad before the T20 series against Sri Lanka this year where he was unfortunate to miss out on joining the squad. However, his performances since then have made it harder to leave him out of the test team. His ability to score outside home conditions with centuries in England make him a strong candidate to open the batting. In tremendous form at the moment and with the current openers struggling, it would be a mistake not to consider Agarwal as a potential opener sooner rather than later.
Pant is the closet to making his debut for India with his inclusion in the current test squad. With Wriddhiman Saha injured for an extended period of time and Dinesh Karthik failing to make an impact, it would be a he mistake if Pant does not debut against England this series. Pant has seen success recently both in India and England, which should give him his debut for the third test. Some of his recent successes include:
- Domestic average of over 54 in first class cricket
- Average of 48 over the last 9 games in England
- In the 2016-17 season, Pant had a breakout season amassing 972 runs at an average of 81
- 2nd highest run scorer in the 2018 IPL, scoring 684 at an average of 52.
Whilst the IPL is not the best measure in regards to a player’s readiness for test cricket, it does demonstrate his ability to face international bowlers. The only real concern for Pant’s inclusion would be his wicket keeping technique which has been questioned in the past. However, with Pant coming off a successful IPL in 2018 as well as averaging close to 50 in his recent run with India A in England, pant would be a welcome inclusion to a lower order which is struggling mightily at the moment.
With a first class average of 59, albeit in only 62 games, Vihari’s name is in the conversation for having one of the best domestic averages in history. At this point, his average surpasses the likes of current players such as Steve Smith and Rohit Sharma, and even legends of the game in Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting. In recent times Vihari has been making strides and should be in contention for a test call up. His recent accolades include:
- Domestic average of over 59 in first class cricket
- In the 2017-18 season, Vihari had a breakout season amassing 752 runs at an average of 94
- 148 against South Africa A
- Average of over 50 in India A’s tour of England
- Has struck double centuries in the last five Ranji Trophy seasons
One of the most striking features in Vihari’s batting is his ability to bat long. Aside from the double centuries in the last five Ranji Trophies, he also scored 302 not out in the 2017/18 Ranji season. This is a trait which is commonly associated with batsmen in the current team such as Pujara, Rahane and Vijay. With the lack of consistency show by each of these players of late, Vihari is a player who could bring this important quality back into the current test team.
Iyer has already debuted for India with an impressive average of 42 in his 5 innings so far. There is some concern about Iyer with his form faltering as of late. His flashy technique is also questionable and will be brought into scrutiny if he fails overseas. With no outstanding performances for India A recently, and a disappointing 2017/2018 domestic season, Iyer has not done himself any favours in the eyes of the Indian selectors. However, despite his poor run of late, some of the reasons to include Iyer would include:
- Domestic average of over 53 in first class cricket
- In the 2015-16 season, Iyer had a breakout season amassing 1321 runs at an average of 73
- A crucial century in the final against Saurashtra in the Ranji Trophy final (2016).
- Captained the India A and Delhi Daredevil teams in the past
Whilst Iyer might not be at the top of this list to make his debut for the Indian test team at this point, he should be given a chance at the international level based on his overall impressive record.
India’s Future Test batting lineup
- Prithvi Shaw
- Mayank Agarwal
- Hanuma Vihari
- Virat Kohli
- Shreyas Iyer
- Rishabh Pant
The England series has confirmed that the current batsmen are not up to the task to compete in foreign conditions. The hope of their extended dominance at home continuing away from India has not become a reality. If India is to be ‘capable of becoming one of the best touring teams in the world’ as Ravi Shastri has stated, it is not with the current squad touring England. Changes need to be made if India is to win – or at this stage even be competitive. Experimenting with a new crop of players who have shown both form and an ability to perform outside India would be taking a step in the right direction. With the way the team is performing at the moment, you would hope changes happen sooner rather than later.