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Greater challenges lie ahead for India


Virat_Kohli_India_South_Africa_Test_cricketIndia wrapped up the second Test against Sri Lanka with another comprehensive win, this time an innings and 239 run hammering at Nagpur. The victory, which puts the hosts one-nil up with one Test to play, continues India’s recent domination over their neighbours from the south. On India’s last tour to Sri Lanka, they swept aside their opposition winning every match across all three formats.

In Nagpur, captain Virat Kohli continued his brilliant run of form, registering his fifth double century in Test cricket, while run-machine Cheteshwar Pujara brought up yet another hundred. Off-spinner Ravi Ashwin also became the fastest bowler in history to 300 Test wickets, taking just 54 matches to achieve the milestone. More importantly, returning opener Murali Vijay scored a century and Ishant Sharma showed some good form with the ball in the absence of front-line seamers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami.

It all sounds pretty rosy for India. Despite a brief scare after a poor first innings on a green Eden Gardens track, they recovered to almost win the first Test, eventually running out of time before the familiar script of home Test wins returned as they smashed Sri Lanka in Nagpur. It would not be out of line to assume Sri Lanka won’t pose a great threat in the last Test in Delhi either.

India are currently sitting pretty atop the ICC Test Rankings and have enjoyed plenty of success in recent times. But, as always, there will be questions over this team’s legacy and true greatness until they win matches and series away from the sub-continent. Their recent record outside Asia doesn’t make for good reading, but with tours to South Africa, England and Australia coming up over the next 18 months, Kohli’s side has the perfect opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and leave their own mark on world cricket. Should they be successful in their overseas ventures, there will be no doubt about their status as the number one Test team in the world.


These tours are of utmost importance. The team knows that, the fans know that, and cricket watchers around the world are waiting in anticipation to see how this strong Indian team fares abroad. All of this raises the question: why was this Test series against Sri Lanka and the limited overs engagements to follow shoe-horned in? Why is the team not being sent to South Africa well in advance to allow them to prepare adequately for such an important series?


On previous tours, Indian sides have been found out early in the series, often struggling in and losing the first Test which immediately puts the side on the back foot. Conditions in South Africa are extremely foreign to Indian players, and after India’s shaky batting in the first innings on a green surface in Kolkata, you can bet on the type of surfaces that will await them in the Rainbow Nation.

There will be pace, there will be bounce, and there will be no shortage of hostility from the likes of a fit-again Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and co. Not to mention the challenge of dismissing batsmen of the calibre of Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock in familiar conditions.


With just a single two-day warm-up match to prepare for the first Test at Newlands in Cape Town, the Indian side will definitely have to adapt quickly; but with packed schedules now being the norm, there will be no excuses for a poor start to the series. Ideally, the BCCI should have shown greater foresight and at the very least done away with the limited overs leg of Sri Lanka’s visit, if not the whole series. With all due respect to Sri Lanka, they are currently at perhaps their lowest ebb, and the gulf between playing them in India as compared to the South Africans in South Africa is huge.


While it is great for India’s Test players to have the match practice, they would be better off playing a number of practice matches in South Africa to get used to the conditions, and more importantly, settle on the combination they feel can turn their overseas fortunes around.

India’s line up at home is very settled, and dominant. However, there are still questions over the best playing eleven for the South Africa series. Can Ashwin and Jadeja fit into the same side? Who will bat at number six? What will be Hardik Pandya’s role? What is India’s best opening combination?

All of these questions need to be answered confidently before the first Test against South Africa, and the answers won’t be found by pummelling a lowly Sri Lanka at home. The batsmen will need to adapt to the pace and bounce outside India, but the fast bowlers will also need to adjust to different lengths and greater workloads. India need to work out if Shami’s injury-plagued body is up to the challenge, if Umesh Yadav can find some consistency, if Ashwin or Jadeja can play a holding role while contributing with the bat.

As great as all of India’s recent success is, it will mean little if they cannot perform in South Africa and beyond. They will be judged on the challenging tours of the next 12 to 18 months, and to be successful abroad, they need to be adequately prepared.


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Akash is a cricket writer based in Perth, Western Australia. Upon completing his journalism degree ...

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