If I was allowed one question of India’s Test cricketers, and was guaranteed an honest answer, I would ask “Do you, deep down in your heart, believe you can win Test matches away?” I wouldn’t ask it out of sarcasm, or a desire to play to the gallery, I would ask it because a lot of actions emerge from true feelings. I would also ask it because I have asked it of players who travelled overseas in the late eighties and nineties and they were honest enough to say that they didn’t believe they could.
But since it doesn’t matter what I ask, or what I feel, it is important that someone who matters does. Eight Test matches were lost in England and Australia and if the question was indeed asked then, it remained secret. But the answer, and the resultant solution, didn’t manifest itself. You could say, as Dhoni has tried to, that this is a different side, that the ageing batting line-up of those crippling losses has given way to a younger lot, and that therefore this team needs time. In fairness to that argument, India created winning positions in two of the last four tests but the ease with which those were subsequently squandered was indicative of a deeper issue.
On field battles
And so, now the hard question must be asked. And answered. And it must begin with whether or not the players, individually and as a team, genuinely believe they can win overseas; whether they respect each other enough as players to think that one of them can effect a turnaround in a Test match. India’s cricket administration, having won so many off-field battles with well planned campaigns, needs to spend a little more time in trying to win a battle on the field. For that, you must know why you are losing.
If you look at the away scorecards of matches between 2002-07, which was a good phase, some things become apparent. For a start, the batsmen made a lot of runs; it was the coming together of an extraordinary quintet of batsmen. With Dhawan, Pujara, Kohli and Rahane, maybe that phase can return though it is best not to live with such expectation. In seven Tests in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04, India had scores of 409, 523, 366, 705, 211-2, 675 and 600! India won three out of those seven Tests but lost two and again the scorecards tell a story. While there were sporadic individual bursts, Agarkar at Adelaide, Pathan and Balaji in Pakistan, India’s bowling wasn’t scaring anyone. The opposition in those Tests made 323, 284-3, 556, 558, 474, 376-6, 407 and 489. What India seem to have done well was to continued…