Indian Test Cricket: Familiar Problems Persist

The highest successful 4th innings run chase in the history of Test cricket at Galle, in Sri Lanka happens to be just 99. However, this falls woefully short of justifying India’s agonising 63 run defeat to the hosts in the 1st Test. After having dominated the Test match for the better part of the first three days, the Indians were knocked out of match in just three sessions! A target of 176 seemed too small on paper, but proved to be well beyond the reach of the Indians on the morning of Day 4. Rangana Herath’s old school spin bowling brought the visitors down on their knees in no time at all.

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Rangana Herath: Spinning Lanka to Victory

Lack of experience?

Perhaps the hackneyed policy of citing the ‘inexperience’ of the team to justify its continued mediocrity in Test cricket shall not hold much water this time. After all, the Shikhar Dhawans, Rohit Sharmas, Ishant Sharmas and Varun Aarons have been around for quite some time now. And yet, at the end of every failed adventure in Test cricket, the talk of ‘inexperience’ inevitably creeps into the discussions. Clearly, it’s not the lack of experience any more.

Ishant Sharma, the familiar scapegoat of India’s problems, made his Test debut more than 8 years ago. Rohit Sharma’s exposure to international cricket perhaps ought to make him a ‘pro’ by now. Varun Aaron, even with just 6 Tests in his kitty, made his Test debut in 2011.The Test team, then, must be missing something more than just ‘experience’.

Improper team management and policy making :

The decision to choose Rohit Sharma ahead of Cheteshwar Pujara surely has been one of the most ill-advised ones in Indian Test Cricket in recent years. Neither of the two had the luxury of relying on their recent track record. But while Pujara’s ability to play the sheet anchor’s role has been proved beyond doubt in the last two years, Rohit Sharma has not made ANY impression on Test cricket except on flat tracks at home.

The fact that Rohit Sharma failed to do anything significant in the recent Test against Bangladesh added an extra element of unfairness to his selection here. Surely, the captain and the selectors have got their priorities all jumbled up? Was Sharma being picked ahead of Pujara on potential rather than performance in the pressure cooker situation of a Test match. Did the fact that Rohit Sharma recently had a stellar IPL season and a stupendous double century against Sri lanka in limited overs format impact the selection ?

Spin – anyone?

Even with Ravichandran Ashwin’s 10 wicket haul in this Test match, the 3 Indian spinners had to bowl a total of 62.2 overs in the 2nd innings before the hosts could be bowled out. That too, after the hosts were reduced to 95-5, and the game had looked completely in India’s favour. While luck and some terrible umpiring decisions helped the hosts recover, good team makes their own luck and India should still have over hauled this target with ease.

Instead Rangana Herath and Kaushal bundled out the 10 Indian batsmen in less than 38 overs in the 4th innings, and their bowling  does out in perspective India’s fabled ‘spin domination’ in this match.

If Harbhajan Singh’s selection for the tour of Bangladesh was a step backward, Amit Mishra’s inclusion in this series is probably two steps back ! The two veteran spinners, are getting on in age and clearly cannot be the answer to India’s dwindling spin reserves.

The problem is possibly due to Ranji cricket mostly being played on pace friendly wickets and a empty cupboard when it comes to young spin bowling talent. Neither Karn Sharma nor Axar Patel , both nourished occasionally by the IPL, have been able to match up to required standards of Test cricket.

This leaves practically NO prospective young spinner to represent India in the white jersey. The selectors have tried to evade this problem in the garb of ‘reinventing’ Mishra and Harbhajan. The Tests played in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka since June have presented ample evidence of how this move has backfired.

It’s a strange dilemma Indian Test cricket might encounter now. Lack of pacers while playing abroad, and lack of quality spinners (barring the occasional brilliance of Ashwin) while playing in the subcontinent! Add to that the selection policy and you get a completely gloomy picture of the future. Whether or not a young Virat Kohli, can solve this problem, is a question that the whole country would want an answer to. Here is hoping that the second test produces more answers than questions.




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