Still a long way to go for Virat Kohli's India before claiming the mantle of the best

Ashish Peter 11/08/2017
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Can Kohli and Shastri experience success in South Africa?

India’s head coach Ravi Shastri showered mighty words of praise on Virat Kohli and his men ahead of the second Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo.

Shastri had said: “This team has been together for two years now. They are much more experienced now. They have already done things which a lot of Indian teams and some big names could not achieve, like winning a series here (Sri Lanka). A lot of big players with 20 years of experience have not done that. I am very positive here that this team can do things that probably no other Indian team has done.”

The ‘probably’ in the last sentence is important before we jump the gun on declaring the current Indian side is the best it has been over the years.

The team currently sits top of the ICC Test rankings and has been on a roll for the large part of the last two years.

India’s rise to the top started with a historic series victory here in Sri Lanka two years back and since then Kohli’s men have gone on to conquer South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand and Australia before returning to the island nation.

In this period of domination, the big three of South Africa, England and the Aussies were vanquished on home conditions while the only overseas victories have come against the West Indies and Sri Lanka.

While the wins over Sri Lanka and West Indies are impressive, one must not forget that Windies have been a side in terminal decline for some time and Sri Lanka are an outfit in transition, still struggling to replace their legendary players.

Though tougher opponents have been beaten at home, it is not an entirely accurate reflection of how good this current team are, given that the Men in Blue have always been traditionally strong in their own backyard.

Ganguly's team was equally dominant at home.

Ganguly’s team were equally dominant at home.

Since the turn of the millennium, only two touring parties have managed to beat India at home.

Alastair Cook’s England in 2012-13 and Ricky Ponting’s Australia in 2004 slightly embellish what is an enviable home record for the subcontinent giants.

One would need to go further back to 1999 to look up India’s only other home series defeat in over three decades since 1987. Hansie Cronje’s South Africa beat a Sachin Tendulkar-led India 2-0 in a two-match series.

With just three series losses in as many decades, it is safe to say that India’s domination at home is a norm rather than an exception.

The ICC Test calendar has perfectly aligned for Kohli and his men in the last two years as they have played majority of their cricket on the subcontinent itself.

The Indian sides led by Saurav Ganguly and Mahender Singh Dhoni were as dominant as Kohli’s on home surfaces and it is only overseas that their struggles started. While Ganguly’s squad had some important victories abroad, Dhoni’s team had a dreadful record against the likes of England and Australia.

Dhoni's team struggled in Australia and England despite their home form.

Dhoni’s team struggled in Australia and England despite their home form.

So for Shastri to crown the current team as the greatest Indian team in the past 20 years is a bit of a stretch. Three tough Tests await his team in South Africa at the end of the current year and it is there where India’s true mettle will be tested.

The subcontinent team has never won a Test series in South Africa in their entire history with a 1-1 drawn series in 2010 being the best result they have achieved against the Proteas.

In fact, 2018 will be the acid Test for Shastri’s boys when they travel to England and Australia for extensive tours.

The performances against the big three will set a precedence how Kohli’s team will be judged and compared to their contemporaries from previous eras.

India last won a Test series in England in 2007, 21 years after their previous victory in 1986 while the Aussie frontier still remains unconquered in almost 70 years since independence.

Until they make an inroad in those series, Shastri’s high praise will only ring hollow in the ears of the previous squads who have been through the same grind of achieving big at home only to fail overseas.

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BCCI to appeal against lifting of Shanthakumaran Sreesanth's match-fixing life ban

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Sreesanth is still hoping to represent India at the next World Cup.

India’s cricket board will appeal against a court order that lifted fast bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth’s life ban for match-fixing, a senior official said on Friday.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) does not agree with the Kerala state high court order that acquitted Sreesanth for lack of proof, the official said on condition of anonymity.

After the court ruling on Monday, Sreesanth, 34, said he was hoping to get his career back on track and represent India at the next World Cup in 2019.

But the BCCI official said: “We don’t agree with the order. It definitely needs to be challenged and within a week the appeal would be filed in the Kerala high court.

“We were always clear on this case as the board is firm on its zero tolerance policy on corruption and match-fixing,” the official added.

Sreesanth and two other Rajasthan Royals players were banned for life over alleged involvement in betting and spot-fixing following a 2013 scandal in the Indian Premier League.

Sreesanth, Ankit Chavan and Ajit Chandila were arrested along with scores of bookies as part of a probe into allegations that players had under-performed in return for cash.

Criminal charges were later dropped, but the players remained banned for breaching the BCCI’s code of conduct.

Sreesanth, who is 13 short of 100 Test wickets, has played 27 Tests and 53 one-day internationals since making his debut in 2005.

Provided by AFP Sport

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Unpredictable Kuldeep Yadav a fine spinner to replace Ravindra Jadeja in India's third Test against Sri Lanka

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Ahead of the second Test in Colombo, coach Ravi Shastri discussed India’s rich bench strength. “We are happy to have a number of options available. It is a good headache and it helps to have healthy competition for places,” he had said.

By that same measure, Virat Kohli will get to test his squad’s depth in the third Test at Pallekele starting on Saturday.

Thanks to Ravindra Jadeja’s one-match suspension, the Indian skipper will have to pick an alternate spinner to pair up with R Ashwin. At the time of writing, left-arm spinner (who can also bat a bit) Axar Patel had been drafted into the squad.

He will arrive on Thursday and will be available for selection, a like-for-like replacement (if only on paper) to the No1 Test bowler and all-rounder.

The other option is picking left-arm leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav.

Usually, India have a firm selection policy – those in-waiting within the squad are picked ahead of any fringe players coming in. While Patel is yet to make his Test debut, Yadav has played one match – in Dharamsala, against Australia, where he took 4-68 in the first innings of the series’ decider.

“It isn’t clear as there are still three days remaining,” said Yadav.

If you look at the lush-green square at the Pallekele International Stadium, you would simply assume neither gets a chance. But three days is a long time in cricket, especially when the home team is fairing so poorly against a far superior, No1 ranked opposition. That grass should vanish, like it did at the SSC on the morning of the second Test. And if so, Yadav will only be too eager to play.

“I am excited because playing in Sri Lanka will be the result of my hard work. If you are in the same Test team as the No1 and No2 bowlers in Test cricket, you will have to wait your chance,” he said.

His words have a matter-of-fact mannerism about them. New to the rigours of international cricket, which includes handling googlies from the media, Yadav is from the Virender Sehwag school of banter – he plays them with a straight bat, or often, hits them out of the park.

Kuldeep Yadav's unique action brings about unpredictability.

Kuldeep Yadav’s unique action brings about unpredictability.

“In my childhood days, I have played on cement wickets. They are tougher than grassy wickets to bowl on. So, I never look at what the pitch is like. I just try to bowl in the right areas and get as many wickets as possible,” he quipped.

Like any other member of the squad, Yadav is simply making a case for himself to be included in the next playing 11. Of course, captain Kohli is no stranger to his prowess. When he awed in that fourth Test against Australia, the skipper was at a loss for words at the instantaneous impact made by the youngster in a series-deciding game.

“Inspired selection and performance” is how Kohli had deemed it then.

Then, of course there is the recent ODI tour to the Caribbean. After the heartbreaking loss in the Champions Trophy final, it was an obvious conclusion in Indian cricket circles that Ashwin-Jadeja might not be the best fit in the same ODI line-up. Result – in the next series against the West Indies, Yadav played all five matches while Ashwin and Jadeja split their appearances.

Unlike Patel, who has an irregular presence even in the limited-overs’ set-up, there is a familiarity about the left-arm leg-spinner already. Clearly, management is aware of what Yadav brings to the table – an unpredictability given his action and style of bowling, the chance to take wickets as few batsmen can conformably comprehend a ‘chinaman’ bowler, and most of all, chutzpah.

The spunky youngster is ever ready to get into a duel, regardless of who is at the crease. It is, after all, how spinners get their wickets.

“During my debut Test I didn’t care who I was playing against, Australia or somebody else. For me that was an unforgettable moment, because ever since childhood, I have only wanted to play Test cricket and make my family proud. I don’t think any other moment can top it. Everyone was watching me. I knew it was my moment to impress,” Yadav said.

Kuldeep has displaced Jayant Yadav as India's third spinner.

Kuldeep has displaced Jayant Yadav as India’s third spinner.

Impress he did, for until that point in time, Jayant Yadav was the designated third-choice spinner. On this tour, the first Test series after a long 2016-17 home season, his name-sake has overtaken him in the pecking order. Sure, he is still only third behind Ashwin and Jadeja.

But with the latter missing, there is certain air of confidence that this second-spinner slot belongs to him, even if temporarily.

“I couldn’t sleep the night before my Test debut. I was excited, but more than that I was nervous, about performing and playing for India. I am not sleepless anymore,” Yadav signed off.

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