Where Now for India’s Test Side?

England duly wrapped up their 4-0 series defeat of India at the Oval, the thirteenth time in Test history that a four (or more) match series has ended in a whitewash. For India, who came into the series as world champions and No. 1 in the rankings, it’s a humiliating defeat – but what consequences might it have for India and the world of cricket in the long term?

Firstly, there is no doubt that some players were rushed back too soon after injury, Virender Sehwag being the most obvious example. The physical demands placed upon India’s stars by the World Cup, Indian Premier League (IPL), a tour to the Caribbean and then a tour of England all in the space of five months were simply too great. Conversely, the tactical and strategic demands were too light: there was only one first-class warm-up match for India at the start of this series and it was clear from the first Test at Lord’s onwards, that this was simply not enough. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) will have to study the schedules they force their players through. They have to decide how important Test cricket is to them. If they want to regain their No.1 ranking, they need to plan tours more carefully and make players have surgery at the right time, rather than, as in the case of Sehwag, waiting until the end of the IPL and thereby ruling one of the world’s best players out of five Test matches.

These decisions will have an impact on the whole cricket world. It might be that the IPL is shortened or that there are fewer international series arranged instead. One idea being suggested is that the cricket world collectively agrees a window for the IPL, by far the world’s richest cricket tournament (valued at $14.3 billion this year) and simply closes down domestic and international cricket for a given period to allow this to happen.

So India’s strategic thinking after this defeat will have a major impact on the world of cricket, not just India. But what about India’s cricket team? What are the likely consequences for them?

It is important not to be hysterical. England lost 5-0 to Australia in 2006/7, but are now No. 1 in the world for first time since the 1950s. India have a core of legends of the game in Tendulkar, Laxman and Dravid, who notched up more runs in his team’s defeat than any other batsman on either side – 461 at 76.83. Laxman had a poor series after a wonderful 2010, while Tendulkar showed evidence of form without making the 100th international hundred everyone in cricket is awaiting (these things may be connected). There are young players of substance in Virat Kohli, Abhinav Mukund and Gautum Gambhir either in the side on the fringes of it, so there is no need for the BCCI to start clearing the older players out. In Tendulkar’s previous series, against South Africa earlier this year, he averaged 81 – the “little master” has quite a bit of mastery left in him yet.

However, the BCCI do need to formulate a plan for the next five years or so. The successors to Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar, 36, 38 and 38 respectively, need to be identified and these players should be found roles as coaches or development officers.

It is the bowling where India have been found to be most wanting in this series. Without Zaheer Khan, it lacks pace or effective spin. Work on finding the basis for a new, young bowling attack needs to start now. In some ways this would be the most important action the BCCI could take in the short-term. Even if Khan returns to full fitness, Sreesanth and RP Singh are not the future. Praveen Kumar, with his determination and excellent Test bowling average of 25.81, certainly is the future. He should be the fulcrum of India’s bowling for the next few years.

Speaking of fitness, the culture of coaching needs some updating. India’s players seemed reluctant to warm-up effectively, looked slow or weary in the field and generally lacked the cutting edge of a top-class fielding side. If Duncan Fletcher keeps his job, which he should, he will target this area – this much is obvious from his time in charge of England. Fletcher needs a back-room staff who can support him while he develops a team ethic in which everyone supports each other.  India’s team of great individuals need to think more collectively.

A single series defeat, however awful, is never a good reason for over-reaction and hysteria. But, as with England after 2006/7, it can be a spur to development. If the BCCI conducted a serious review of the logistical and coaching issues that caused this fiasco, while identifying a core of young bowlers to take the team further, India could be No.1 again in just a couple of years.

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About Kevin Donnelly

I'm also known as Lawrence George, which is the name I write for Helium under. I think I ought to ditch my pseudonyms before I forget which one is me.
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