Like on innumerable occasions in the past, India are set to complete yet another disappointing tour of England. Virat Kohli’s promised so much and will yet come back with a 4-1 series loss to show for their efforts.
Whilst the inability to wrap up England’s tail has cost India dear on more instance than one, it has to be acknowledged that the bowlers have largely done their job. It is the team’s batting which has been a major let down. Captain Kohli has batted like a dream and amassed nearly 600 runs on this tour but the support has been absolutely shambolic.
There has been no real collective effort from the batsmen, bar a rare partnership here or there. Cheteshwar Pujara scored a fighting 132 not out in Southampton, India’s total was 272. Vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane played a fine hand at Trent Bridge and that is about it. Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul haven’t contributed anything at all and the lesser said about India’s lower-order, the better.
So how is it that Ravi Shastri comes out all guns blazing in a press conference after a series wrapping loss at Edgbaston and declares that this is the best team to have taken the field for India in last 15-20 years? Heck, the ‘Head Coach’ even presented some stats to support his argument.
Shastri thundered that India have won 9 overseas Tests in the last three years under Kohli’s captaincy. True? Yes. Impressive? No. Out of these 9 wins, 5 have come in Sri Lanka and 2 in West Indies. Judge for yourself.
Just to compare, Sourav Ganguly was the captain of India at the turn of this century and it is under his leadership that the team became world-class travellers.
In 2002, India came from behind to famously draw a series in England. Steve Waugh had to then dig deep and put all his experience to use in his final Test to salvage the series for Australia against Ganguly’s fearless side. A series win in Pakistan followed where India won two Tests and Virender Sehwag waltzed his way to a memorable triple hundred in Multan.
Ganguly’s tenure also had its share of disappointments as India lost a close series in West Indies and were whitewashed in New Zealand during this time. But a decade has passed since then and the feeling that this era of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Kumble, Sehwag and Ganguly was India’s best in terms of competing overseas lingers on.
MS Dhoni came, made the shorter formats his own and even took India to Number 1 ranking in Tests but the general consensus remains that the longer format, particularly touring abroad, was never his forte and a win against a declining New Zealand side is the only real bright spot from his time at the helm.
Virat Kohli has come in, transformed the Indian side in terms of mentality and instilled a burning desire to win in foreign land. The margin of defeats has come down, Indian bowlers have out-bowled opposition attacks and the team has competed on most occasions. But all this has clearly not been enough as the results haven’t changed.
So Shastri’s comments that the current lot is the best Indian side to have competed overseas is far fetched and misplaced. The plight of Indian batsmen against quality bowling has been quite apparent and cost the team dear.
This begs the question – Which players from the current Test side would make it to Ganguly’s team that remains the benchmark for touring Indian sides.
After a torrid time out in 2014, Kohli has taken his overall game to the next level and scored runs across the globe. He was the leading run-scorer on India’s tour of South Africa and has repeated the feat in England. The 29-year-old is currently the world’s best batsman by a mile and there can hardly be an argument about him finding a place in Ganguly’s side. His batting position could be point of discussion given the great Sachin Tendulkar occupied the Number 4 slot in that era but Kohli would have been there. He is that good!
Ajinkya Rahane and Murali Vijay were labelled as the two most technically sound batsmen when they first arrived on the scene. Rahane in fact scored a memorable century at Lord’s in 2014 and was hyped to an extent where he was supposedly earmarked as the man to carry India’s batting in overseas tours. What has since transpired has been utterly disappointing as the vice-captain is now a clear weak link and has done nothing other than a few sporadic flashed of brilliance in between.
Given his penchant to bat for long periods of time and wear down bowling attacks, Cheteshwar Pujara was billed to make Rahul Dravid‘s Number 3 slot his own. The Saurashtra batsman has been a real machine at home but has struggled to make an impact in testing conditions abroad, something which Dravid with aplomb and scripted many famous wins for India.
His 148 at Leeds in 2002, 233 at Adelaide in 2003 and 270 at Rawalpindi in 2004 were all masterclasses in their own right and came in winning causes. Dravid was so good during his peak that he often outscored the likes of Tendulkar, Laxman and Ganguly – all significantly more gifted than him – and was the backbone of Indian batting.
Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul don’t even deserve a mention here as their T20 approach to facing James Anderson and Stuart Broad has been a major eyesore which has let India down. The former is in fact running the risk of going the ‘Vinod Kambli path’ and it might be the end of road for him in Test cricket.
It is current lot of fast bowlers who, had they played in the first half of last decade, could have made a substantial difference to India’s fortunes and Ganguly’s side could well have turned the draws in England and Australia to famous wins.
In Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kohli has a world class pace battery at his disposal and taking 20 wickets in a Test match has never been easier for India.
During Ganguly’s time, Javagal Srinath was at the fag end of his career, Zaheer Khan was still new and finding his feet at the Test level, Ajit Agarkar took 6 wickets to script the Adelaide win but could rarely be relied upon to consistently trouble batsmen, Irfan Pathan showed a lot of early promise but that was all and Ashish Nehra had a habit of injuring himself at the worst of times.
Anil Kumble was the only bowler who was consistently a menace, particularly on fourth and fifth day wickets. He also had the priceless ability of running through the tail, something which Kohli and the current Indian bowling lineup can do with. Ravichandran Ashwin is a real stalwart at home but his record in England, South Africa and Australia is a big let down.
Harbhajan Singh also deserves a mention in this argument here but he was largely confined to the bench in overseas conditions, akin to what Ravindra Jadeja has to endure in the current setup.
All said and done, one feels that Bumrah would have been the only automatic pick had he played in Ganguly’s time. Shami or Bhuvi would also make the cut as the team’s third seamer as Zaheer edges out both Ishant and Umesh. Kumble would be the sole spinner to round off a potentially deadly bowling attack.
That is it! Kohli, Bumrah, Bhuvi and potentially Shami. No other member of Shastri’s ‘best touring Indian side in last 15-20 years’ comes even close to making the cut for Ganguly’s side which well and truly ruled the roost between 2001 and 2005.
WATCH: Rahul Dravid’s epic double ton at Adelaide in 2003