Dev Tyagi

Indian Test Cricket: amidst positive transformation

September 16, 2015

The Indian Cricket team is amongst one of the most talked about teams in world cricket. Whether it is its brazen competitiveness defined by a young generation that is seen forever willing to fight fire with fire or its calming poise on the test level, there is no stopping team India. Recently, not so long ago, some of the finest clan of players to have ever represented India retired from the international arena. And, these weren't any marginal setbacks. With the retirement of clearly the most phenomenal player in the world, Sachin Tendulkar and perhaps the most poetic of all in terms of making batting a refined art, VVS Laxman's retirement from test match cricket left a huge void.

But with Sachin and VVS gone, it wasn't a conclusion to the checkered list of internationally reputed star quality batsmen to have left the game they took to glorious heights. With his impregnable batting technique and match-winning abilities to defy opponents any chances of edging out India from many a test spectacle, Rahul "The Wall" Dravid's exit hurt us bitterly too.

We are still a side that packs a punch on its day

[caption id="attachment_2218" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Indian cricket team celebrates a dismissal Indian cricket team celebrates a dismissal[/caption]

Despite of these colossal retirements, the statements made rather irrationally but albeit with their characteristic denial of India's great talent, somewhere the likes of Ian Chappel, Naseer Hussain  and Geoff Boycott faltered. Their assumption, rather inglorious declaration that with the retirement of the big 3, team India, at least in the test arena would now be like an easy walk in the park for its opponents seemed to have fallen back on these commentators' face. While, surely we may not be the most promising or consistent side in World cricket in the test arena, we are miles ahead of our common adversaries such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, England and at times, Australia on any given day. In the one day internationals however, India remains the side you need to beat in order to hold aloft a prized trophy in a limited over contest. We have made the likes of Windies minnows in the modern day sport and let's not speak of what we did to Pakistan in the last 5 years. Our success ratio vis-a-vis Pakistan's in both ODI and Test cricket is ahead by leaps and bound.

But, cricket is a decisive game that can change tides within seconds. Batsmen are only as good as their last inning and any signs of success in the test competition is indifferent to even an exemplary performance in the limited over format. Bowlers on the other hand need to be penetrating and lethal if they are expected to take their sides to an imposing level in the test arena where success is often garnered by the ability to take 20 wickets in the innings.

Not all is damp in the test squad for Team India 

[caption id="attachment_2220" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Together as one unit, India in tests gels well Together as one unit, India in tests gels well[/caption]

Importantly, while the likes of Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and R.Ashwin are largely responsible for the ascendency of our brand of cricket and its competitiveness in the limited over arena, winning games single-handedly in the past 3 years. But, when it comes to test cricket, despite of the retirements of great batting legends like Dravid and Laxman who could not only hold fort when needed, especially during crunch situations, but could well pave way to smoothen triumphs amidst bumpy roads thanks to their technique, the young blood of Indian batsmen possess what is required to succeed in this rigorous format.

Understandably so, what one needs in order to carve a successful image in test match cricket is the ability to focus for long bouts of time intervals and that powerful skill called patience. Apart from concentration, your ability to handle pressure which often comes as being synonymous with crisis tests the character of a talent like no other cricketing measure. But, while our performances in the oversees tours of Australia and England were far from satisfactory, if you take into consideration the cricket season from mid 2014 till as recently as July 2015, there have been quite a few positives that one can take heart from.

How we fare as a bowling unit

[caption id="attachment_2221" align="aligncenter" width="702"]Ishant is leading the pace attack from the front Ishant is leading the pace attack from the front[/caption]

Apart from the persistent failures of Rohit Sharma, who currently seems baffled at his failure to protect his wicket from falling within minutes of his arrival, there isn't any real threat to thwart India's hope to shine in what is remaining in the 2015 cricket season. Opener Shikhar Dhawan, who seemed to have lost his form right before the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, seems to be in fine knick at the test level. Ashwin seems to be at his confusing best to all world class batsmen who come to face the offie in his element. The "doosra" at times is just as surprising as the straighter one, delivered from a high arm action. Ask, Hashim Amla or Kumar Sangakkara for putting credence to this fact. Harbhajan's recent arrival at the test squad seems to have bolstered newly made captain Kohli's hope for overpowering opponents. Together, Ashwin and Bhajji boast of a sublime 662 test wickets from 131 test matches, that's a lot many wickets to scare batsmen with.

When it comes to pace attack, with a newfound vigor back with verve in a charged up Ishant Sharma, who has to his credit 200 test wickets and 7 five wicket hauls from 65 tests is generating more bounce and reverse swing that he has generally exhibited. While he is only 27, he is being partnered with the likes of a supremely talented Bhuvneshwar Kumar from U.P. The medium pacer who can ably swing the red cherry both ways is a tough cookie who seldom gives up in crunch match situations. Together with the likes of Umesh Yadav who is perhaps more quicker than Delhi-born Sharma, our bowling coaches need to only mentor Varun Aaron closely. At times, youngsters resort to irrationality often throwing up maturity in the wake of easy frustrations that happen when confronted with top batsmen.

We aren't there yet with the likes of Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle from Australia or perhaps a Jerome Taylor or Dale Steyn from the West Indies and South Africa who are better proponent of pace exultations, more capable than our relatively inexperienced blokes, but it seems our eager performers at the test level are looking to contest together as a unit. They demonstrated it dutifully by exceptional all round bowling performance during the decisive test played at Colombo, in Sangakkara's farewell series last August, just a few days ago.

Batting seems to be our strength

[caption id="attachment_2222" align="alignleft" width="702"]Rahane is a great find at the test level Rahane is a great find at the test level[/caption]

They say that Cricket is a batsman's game. For the resolve, determination and class exuded by world class willowers truly transforms the average lover of the game where he becomes a king spectator, witnessing grand battles being decorated by starry records earned by flawless escapades of batting.

With captain Virat Kohli clearly seeming to be in this purple patch where his recent exploits in over a year have resulted in 6 splendid test centuries, he seems eager than ever to lock horns with a South Africa and an Australia, both of whom did his side when India toured them back in 2014-2015. But, unlike Sachin who until a Dravid arrived seemed to be clearly steaming up with pressure that was exerted on his mighty willow, Kohli isn't the lone hero.

Perhaps one would say that truth be told, in the form of Ajinkya Rahane and a certain Cheteshwar Pujara, who is often compared with his own batting role model; Rahul Dravid with whom he played just a single test before "The Wall" exited the test arena, India have two really outstanding batsmen. 27 eyar old Rahane's 1400 runs from a mere 34 inning with 4 hundreds and 7 fifties and an important highest score of a 147 seems to have announced his intentions on the big test match stage. On the other hand, Pujara, also 27 and hailing from Rajkot, Gujarat, has powered our test match line-up lending it bouts of concentration and vigor.

[caption id="attachment_2223" align="aligncenter" width="660"]indian test cricket team On his day, Pujara is clearly our most able and technically correct test bat[/caption]

If Cheteshwar Pujara's 7 test hundreds that include 2 double hundreds aren't enough to confirm his status as the most capable test match batsman in a star studded line up whose trump card is captain Kohli, then his recent 135 from 277 deliveries under intense pressure against a Lanka that nearly drove India to its back foot is enough to suffice the claim. But, you would be wrong to think that this young cricketing talent has always had an easy journey. Losing his mother at an early age, just like Kohli who lost his dad, it was Cricket which Cheteshwar resorted to, in order to power his abilities to meet their potential. Supported by his father, Pujara struck gold against a touring English side when he cracked impressive hundreds on home soil back in 2013.

Striking good form in India's oversees tour to South Africa, where only he and Kohli commanded headlines in front of the big bold fonts that deservingly catered to Jack Kallis' retirement, Pujara was axed following his poor show in the recent England tour of 2014. Since then, he went back to the domestic level and traveled to England's bouncy and turning pitches that had brought about his downfall. Playing for Derbyshire, in a bid to revive his test fortunes, young Saurashtra batsman scored plenty of runs at an average of 54. Later, he was once again at the middle of an activity which he would perhaps love to do in his dreams; batting. At the recently concluded domestic games, he powered India A to its triumph over the touring Aussies. This led to a test recall and since then, he has made the most of his comeback.

Things, therefore are brighter instead of being dark over the Indian horizon where cricket continues to be our saving grace from our stresses and worries and where we Indians take refuge and pious shelter from the winds of everyday troubles. Let's see what our boys can do in test matches that are to follow.