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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Australia tour presents India with another chance to walk the talk

India go into the tour of Australia having lost two crucial Test series against South Africa and England earlier in the year.

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Mumbai |
Updated: November 16, 2018 12:17:26 pm
Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri at the pre-departure press conference before leaving to Australia for a full-fledged tour, which begins with the T20-leg next Wednesday.

“The next one-and-a-half years will define this Indian cricket team. With the tours of South Africa, England and Australia coming up, all I can say is this will be a better cricket team after those 18 months.” That was Ravi Shastri last December on the eve of the team’s departure to South Africa. India ended up losing the first two Tests there before coming back to win the dead rubber as the series finished 2-1 in the home team’s favour.

“I can’t see any other Indian team in the last 15-20 years that has had the same run in such a short time, and you have had some great players playing in those series.” That was Shastri after India had gone down 3-1 and lost the series in Southampton on the England tour. So when the Indian coach sat alongside captain Virat Kohli a day before the team’s scheduled departure for Australia, it was only natural that he would be asked to assess his team’s standing 11 months into that 18-month defining period.

And Shastri spoke about the “progress across all formats in spite of the scoreline in England”, being more than happy about their performances in “conditions foreign to us” and how learning from mistakes on the previous two tours will “stand us in good stead in Australia”.

ALSO READ | Is Ravi Shastri a ‘yes man’? No, says Virat Kohli

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The time for talk though is over. The time to be “happy with the positives” has passed. The time for Kohli & Co to actually live up to their pursuit of overseas success is now. This has to be the tour that defines this team, the management and Indian cricket in general. Twice already this year they’ve left Indian shores with talk of this being their “best chance” to win in conditions they haven’t historically tasted much success in. In South Africa, they were up against a batting line-up in a state of flux and they failed to get over the line when it mattered despite their own batting strength.

India tour of Australia 2018 Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli during the team’s Australia tour pre-departure press conference at the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai. (Source: PTI)

In England they were up against a batting line-up in disarray — the top-order anyway — and a team that had been shown their place by a young Pakistani outfit. And they faltered, going down 4-1. Yes, they did come close to victories and even dominated large proceedings of matches, but that wasn’t good enough. The eventual result didn’t quite fit in with their coach’s forecast from 12 months ago. And here they stand on the cusp of another big away tour against an Australian team, batting line-up in particular, that is presently highlighted more by those who aren’t around than those who are. They’re just coming off a tough tour of UAE, where they did show some heart in drawing the first Test but then surrendered meekly, as per expectations, soon after.

There was no characteristic bombast from Shastri, Kohli too was rather pragmatic about how his team has fared in the challenging climes that have encountered during their “defining period”.

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ALSO READ | No let up in Australia aggression, says Ishant Sharma

He spoke in particular about how it came down to the individuals in the team taking “ownership” of their responsibility to ensure that results go their team’s way, and trying to fix whatever “went wrong” in England.
“To be honest, we all felt there was not much that went wrong. Whatever was not right was very extreme also. We played good cricket but the mistakes were also very extreme, that’s why we lost that many number of games rather than winning those moments and winning the games,” said Kohli.

India’s two-month tour will be bookended with white-ball cricket as they start with three T20Is and end with three ODIs. But this tour, and perhaps the legacy of this team will be defined by what they do in between those two series, when they look to become the first Indian team win a series Down Under. It might not make up for the losses in England and South Africa, but it will certainly add a lot of girth to their team management’s claims of their reputation as a touring team.

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Virat Kohli arrives for the team’s Australia tour pre-departure press conference at the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai. (Source: PTI)

“It’s Test cricket where we need to tighten things up and keep moving forward and correcting the mistakes,” as Kohli put it.

What’s ironically made India’s failure to post better results over the last year is the success of their bowling attack, which has by far been the most potent they’ve had in decades — if you leave out their inability to consistently wipe out the lower order, Sam Curran in particular with regards to the England series.

It must be said that their batsmen have come up against two of the strongest Test bowling attacks going around in world cricket — whether it was Rabada & Co in South Africa or the wiles of Anderson and Broad in England.
But it’s their repeated inability to “cross the line” that the team management has lamented about quite often. Getting close though is not the same as winning, nor can it be always be used as a balm to underplay the eventual margin of defeat.

Kohli and Shastri have often spoken about the Adelaide Test from 2014 as the “making of this team”. It was a dramatic Test where the captain scored a century in both innings and nearly took his team home in a run-chase — the first of many as it would turn out in Test matches outside the subcontinent. It was also a match that was in a way a changing of the guard in India’s approach to Test match cricket.

It was the time they seemed to move from MS Dhoni’s safety-first attitude towards Tests outside India to “winning at all costs”. And both captain and coach have been vocal about it ever since. Like Shastri was again, when asked about striking that balance between being cautious and being gung-ho with The Oval Test in September as a reference point.
“It’s playing for a win 100 percent. Nothing will change, nothing will change. It’s just seizing those tough situations. Getting tough mentally when the going gets tough there. That’s where we have erred. We’ve learnt our lessons. If you take ownership in such situations and get tough mentally, then probably we’ll do better, for sure.” he said. Powerful words as always.

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But Shastri and Kohli will need their team to back them up over the next month-and-a-half, for Australia will define whether they are just plain keen travelers or successful ones too.

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First published on: 16-11-2018 at 06:11:49 am

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