India’s performance – best at home not abroad?

India’s performance – best at home not abroad?

By Kanishkaa Balachandran/The Hindu

Chennai, October 22: The question of whether the current Indian Test team is the best of the past 15 years, as claimed by coach Ravi Shastri, was apparently a sensitive one following the recent series against England.

“We have to believe we are the best in the world, why not,” captain Virat Kohli replied to a question from a reporter.

Perhaps somewhere in the back of Kohli’s mind was the thought that India’s No. 1 Test ranking, held since October 2016, has recently become a source of embarrassment.

The top ranking came during a bumper home season in 2016-17, during which India hosted an unprecedented four teams across 13 Tests.

Since September 2016, India has won 17 Tests, including 15 in the subcontinent, and excluding the recent home Tests against West Indies.

This explains why India, despite being hammered 4-1 in England and 2-1 in South Africa earlier, has not only managed to consolidate its ranking but still maintain a 10-point lead over the second-placed team in the latest ICC rankings.

Playing in your comfort zone may yield plenty of wins, but it could also create a sense of false confidence. Teams are better judged by how they do on tour, so this No. 1 ranking may not be an accurate reflection of how superior this Indian Test team is.

While the players have, predictably, faced flak, factors beyond their control need to be examined as thoroughly, including the absurd team selection, and catching and batting vulnerabilities that contributed to India’s defeats.

The proliferation of T20 leagues has choked up an already crowded cricket calendar, making it unrealistic for touring teams to play a handful of warm-up games ahead of a Test series in conditions alien to them.

Kohli has said tour games serve little purpose unless the opposition’s bowling and conditions are of a decent standard. In South Africa and England, India was unhappy with what it was given and hence, began both series under cooked.

In the upcoming Australia tour, there will be just one practice game ahead of the Tests. The prior T20s should never be treated as “practice,” because playing a clump of games with the white ball isn’t necessarily going to prepare batsmen for fresh challenges against the red ball.

Shastri’s call for additional warm-ups may not be logistically possible in the time available. High-intensity net sessions against quality bowling is the best option. Last-minute tinkering with itineraries can be avoided if the BCCI treats foreign tours with care.

Working out tour schedules with the host country, with attention to warm-ups, should happen at the negotiating table in the planning phase. Importantly, this should be reciprocated. Given the clout that the BCCI enjoys dictating schedules, an opportunity has been wasted yet again.

Until favorable results come away from home, the No.1 ranking may slowly become irrelevant.

(Kanishkaa Balachandran writes on cricket for The Hindu) When misogyny reared its ugly head at a press meet