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The Road to Redemption: Where do India go next from here?

Last updated on 12 Jun 2023 | 12:50 PM
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The Road to Redemption: Where do India go next from here?

It has been a very weird World Test Championship cycle for India, they are the runners-up, and yet the questions are never-ending

What happens a day after India gets knocked out of an International Cricket Council (ICC) event? 


In many more ways than one, this is precisely that, this is a post-mortem of India’s 2021-23 World Test Championship (WTC) cycle run where they have finished, GUESS WHERE? SECOND.

Let’s look back for a minute, on India’s run into this final, as there were some hiccups on the way. 

Look back at the WTC cycle

A 2-1 loss against South Africa

Leading into that series, the talks were that India would dominate the Proteas, and they had the squad to do exactly that. But after winning the first Test, India did the most Proteas thing and succumbed under pressure, losing the series 1-2. 

If you ask Rahul Dravid, India’s head coach, the loss still pings him. 

A one-off loss against England?

India were just one foot away from doing the unthinkable, winning a Test series in England. But then Indian bowlers fell right into the trap of Bazball, and the one-off Test ended in the most horrific way, a smashing seven-wicket defeat. 

Near Bangladesh loss

If that happened, the talks of a sack would have been on the cards. Losing to England is one thing, losing to Bangladesh is another. Had Shreyas Iyer and Ravichandran Ashwin not bailed India out, heads would have rolled sooner. 

So, what are the learnings, and do these worries still exist?

India just do not correct a mistake. If a mistake exists, they repeat it until it becomes public knowledge.

Also Read: Where and how India lost the World Test Championship final

What are the worries that still exist

Top-order’s continued run of disappointment

You put things into perspective, and you will know that the Indian top-order (1-3) average 34 and are ranked sixth amongst the Test-playing nations. Their run-rate of 2.8 further puts them down, especially in an era where Test crickets are decided increasingly with rapid-batting displays. 

How long will the middle and lower-order bail India out? To make things worse, India were without two of their best middle-order batters - Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant. 

Since the start of 2022, when Test cricket became more uber-aggressive, the Indian top-order only hits their runs at 3 an over and average 29.8. That means neither are they aggressive nor are they protective of the wicket, which brings us to the next point.

Where do India go with Cheteshwar Pujara

It is ironic that India started this WTC cycle with a Pujara-conundrum and have ended the cycle still stuck on the same one.  

Pujara is arguably an Indian Test legend. But his waning form, combined with the fact that his stroke-making abilities have hit a rut, has put India in a muddled position. Amongst all the Test-playing nations, India’s No.3 has the second-worst run-rate of 2.6. 

While in the preceding years, it was given that Pujara would ground the new ball and later bring up his century, the drought of the three-figure score has put the entire focus on him. Pujara is 35 and still a pillar of the team, but with Test cricket heading into a new direction altogether, does persisting with Pujara solve any of the issues for India?

There are four half-centuries but only one century against Pujara, which has now put his run-rate and lack of attacking shots into the questioning line. 

Pujara isn’t the only one, on the bowling front, there is Umesh Yadav, a bonafide legend in Asian conditions with the ball. But like Pujara, he is on the wrong side of age, and at 35 with injury worries, are India heading in the direction they would want to?

India’s Umesh conundrum

Umesh at home and away are two different things. One is a legend, and the other is there to be hit. While his six wickets at The Oval might still be fresh to several people, the fact that he has always struggled away from home is a constant. Since the start of his career, Umesh has played 15 matches in SENA countries and has bowled 471.3 overs, and the sample size there is a lot. 

His overall average though reads: 41.4, and has picked up just 46 wickets. His average has progressively gotten worse, to the point where he has averaged 50 or more in two consecutive years away from home. 

The question is are India ready for that? The buck doesn’t stop with Umesh either, and the biggest fish of them: Jasprit Bumrah. Bumrah is highly unlucky. Injuries have tormented him recently, and every time he has looked to get out of them, he’s managed only to get back to them. 

So should India be looking at building a team without Bumrah (at home)?

This might sound silly at first. But you reread it, think it through, and you may get precisely why it was destined to happen. Playing Bumrah in Indian conditions is perhaps the crime of the highest order. 

Bumrah has played just four Tests at home. Across the four Tests, he’s bowled 85 overs, which is 21 overs a Test, 10 overs an innings. Whilst his average of nine might be an eye-catching one, the risk of playing him trumps it all. 

Bumrah is a generational talent when it comes to pace-bowling. Playing him in Indian conditions where spinners are 3x stronger makes zero sense. 

To extras or not to extras?

Interestingly, India have a terrible fourth-innings record in Tests since 2021. After Kohinoor, it is the second-most open secret in world cricket. Barring some terrible choices from the bowlers to the batters in the fourth innings, a big barrier exists: extras. 

To the naked eye, Indian bowling conceding a few extras won’t make a large difference in the fourth innings of a Test, but when you look at the larger picture, the Indian bowlers are criminals at bowling extras. In the 11 innings since 2021, Indian bowlers have conceded 154 extras, a whooping 20 wides and 22 no-balls, which is the most for a bowling unit. 

If they don’t rectify that, alongside their bowling plans in the fourth innings of a Test, a third final on the row might sound like a dream. 

Where does the solution lie?

Do India have bowling back-ups who are Test-match ready

That’s the biggest question over the last year that has plagued India, are the back-ups ready to take on the best of red-ball teams in world cricket? And a lot of that has to go back down to the pathway route and the system - is India’s ‘A’ system adept at allowing players to transition to the biggest stage easily? 

Abhimanyu Easwaran has been with the team and has been one of the ever-performing members of the India ‘A’ unit, with 733 runs, averaging 56.38, ready waiting in the wings. There’s Yashasvi Jaiswal, who has shown his worth over the last year across formats ready. 

Not to forget someone like Ruturaj Gaikwad, who is yet again a talent that can no longer be overlooked. To top it all off, there’s Rajat Patidar, Tilak Varma and Sarfaraz Khan - who in their own ways can provide India with a variety that they don’t possess. 

While all of them are great against spin, their talents have been seen elsewhere on some big stages against quality bowlers. If anything, they are all ready: to spread their wings. 

Are bowlers, ready to make a transition? 

Mohammed Siraj is a prime example of pathway brilliance. But apart from that, India have picked up several options but are yet to be given a long rope. Navdeep Saini has been an India ‘A’ regular, as has Mukesh Kumar, Arzan Nagwaswalla and Ishan Porel. Unfortunately, none of them have been involved in the setup consistently. 

Back in January 2021, Navdeep Saini was one of the catalysts behind India’s historic win Down Under. Later in May 2021, Arzan Nagwaswalla was on the Indian stand-by list and gave the Indian batters a tough time at the nets. Earlier last year, Mukesh Kumar too was picked up in the setup against South Africa. 

But they have yet to have an extended run in the red-ball format, and whenever that happens, chances are that the system might be failing them. If not for persistent injuries, Prasidh Krishna, too could have been in line to make it to the Indian red-ball set-up. India have quite a few but, unfortunately, haven’t made the fullest use of them. 

The road next

India’s next assignment that succeeds the disastrous WTC final against Australia is a two-match Test series against West Indies, in conditions where pace could very well rule the roost. It is perhaps a fitting Litmus test of the Indian pathway system, which has provided India with many bowling options. 

Could we see more debuts? Could we see India finally making the jump and allowing the India ‘A’ stars such as Mukesh Kumar, Navdeep Saini and Jaydev Unadkat to make their presence felt?

India’s road to redemption isn’t easy, but it is a path that they need to take unfrightened and bravely if they want to lift that Ultimate Mace.

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