When India’s overseas tours cycle began in January 2018, there was plenty of optimism. India had a dominant home season from October 2016 till December 2017 where they swept aside oppositions. New Zealand, England, Bangladesh, Australia, Sri Lanka both home and away were dismantled clinically. A batting core and a bowling unit were firmly in place for overseas conquests. The disappointments of 2011, in which they were whitewashed 4-0 in England and Australia and in 2014, where they lost 1-0 to South Africa, New Zealand, 2-0 to Australia and 3-1 to England would be consigned to history and forgotten.
Alas, that has not been the case. India are reliving part 2 of the ‘Tigers at home, Lambs abroad’ saga with a 1-2 series loss to South Africa and a 1-4 loss to England in Tests. The series defeat in England will hurt especially, considering that top batsmen like Joe Root and Alastair Cook were not in form and the bowling relied on James Anderson, who was recovering from a shoulder injury and Stuart Broad, who had struggled for consistency. With those two defeats behind, India now face Australia Down Under.
The Land of Oz, where India have won just five Tests in 71 years of touring the country. A country where the crowd behaves like the 12th man of the national team. Only South Africa and England have ever won series in the country in the last 25 years. Despite all these odds and with India’s overseas woes, this tour is the golden chance for Kohli’s India to break their overseas rut.
India’s bowling the X-factor
In the upcoming tour, the dynamics have changed favourably towards India. In the current squad, most of the batsmen have played on the previous tour. Kohli hit four centuries and scored 692 runs at an average of 86, Ajinkya Rahane hit a glorious century in Melbourne while Murali Vijay chipped in with fifties and a hundred in Adelaide and Brisbane. KL Rahul also hit a century in Sydney. In the previous tour, all Indian batsmen had a good average and with the gained experience of four years, they will be keen to make an impact.
It is the bowling unit that makes a big difference this time. The squad has Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. The pace and spin departments are covered brilliantly. Bumrah’s style of bowling is tailor-made for Australian conditions while Bhuvneshwar has the capability to swing the ball, both in the air and off the deck. Umesh or Shami can get the ball to reverse swing while Kuldeep’s chinaman could confound Australia, who don’t play spin well. In addition, Ashwin and Jadeja’s relentless pressure and accuracy can stifle Australia.
In past series, Australia always held the upper hand because their bowlers softened the opposition and the batsmen would grind them further for the kill. In this case, the tables have turned.
Avoiding collapses boosts situation
In South Africa and England, the common factor that hurt India was batting collapses. In Cape Town, they were reduced to 92/7 and 82/7 in both innings which hurt them immensely. In Centurion, in the second innings, they stumbled to 82/7 and the end result was they lost the series. In England, the collapses were even more alarming.
In Edgbaston, chasing 194, they crumbled to 78/5 and their last four wickets fell for 22 runs. In Southampton, chasing 245, they lost seven wickets for 41 runs as yet another series slipped by their grasp. Even in Australia 2014, collapses have hurt India. In Adelaide 2014, Kohli’s 115 and 141 was undone because in both innings, India had collapses of 77/6 and 73/8. In Brisbane, the tail contributed just 23 runs for the last four wickets while in the second innings, five wickets fell for 41 runs as the middle order fell to Mitchell Johnson.
In the press conference before the team departed for Australia, Kohli stressed on the need for batsmen from top to bottom to bat together and bat without fear. If India’s batsmen step up and compliment the bowling that has taken 20 wickets away consistently, this series is India’s.
With just two Test wins and three ODI wins in 2018, Australia are ripe for the picking. It is a great chance for India because their opponents are low on confidence, their star players are not there, and their major weapon of ‘mental disintegration’ has been blunted. A chance to win a series against a team confronted with so many problems in their home turf cannot get much better than this.