Since December 2016, there have been seven instances of teams scoring more than 600 runs in an innings in Test cricket. Six of these have come from India, who have enjoyed a productive home season, in which they thrashed the likes of New Zealand, England and Australia before the landed in Sri Lanka. Two more such scores followed in consecutive Tests as the Islanders battled injury and self-doubt against the top Test nation in the World.
This brings us to the fundamental question regarding the Indian team in terms of Test cricket.
Are they prepared to combat tougher conditions, better bowlers and greener tracks? Is their batting equipped enough to consistently rack up scores above 300 against top quality attacks outside the sub-continent?
All signs point towards an aggressive, persuasive, effervescent and dominant Indian Test side. But weren’t they in a similarly rich vein of form at home always? The thing about Indian cricket is that they are so occupied about their own game and home conditions that every victory here is lauded and made bigger than it really is.
Take a moment to think about the attack India faced here at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Sri Lanka. Nuwan Pradeep, the lone seamer in a dry, dusty track…wait, we have seen these kinds of tracks before..where?…at home, of course….So is this really an overseas test for their Test batsmen? NO.
Coming back to where I left off, the only pace bowler India faced in this innings was Nuwan Pradeep for a mere 17.4 overs. Oh wait! They did face the dibbly-dobbly seam of Karunaratne, bowling so slow and mild that a silent breeze would have moved the ball a long way in the air. Is he a Morne Morkel? NO. Is he a Stuart Broad? NO. Is he even a Farhaan Behardien? NO.
Sri Lankan cricket is down and out. That they are still considered among the big boys is in itself surprising given their volatile performances in the past year or so. All they had, against a power packed Indian top order, capable of melting down attacks on the brownish, grassless subcontinental wickets, was spin. Combat fire with fire they say.
But was an attack comprising of Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera and Malinda Pushpakumara really means fire? Barely a spark against these silken Indian batsmen who hit spinners over the top in their dreams.
They were worn out by day 1 and when the pitch did start taking a turn, the tired Lankan spinners had no grenades to through at Jadeja’s sword. He made another half-century, swished his bat like a blade in celebration, and took India to get another 600. What is the point?
Does this Indian lineup have enough juice to survive on quicker wickets yet? The last time India made a 600+ score outside the subcontinent was at The Oval in 2007 against England. Forget 600, can they make a 400+ and put the opposition under pressure on lightning quick pitches?
When Karunaratne is bowling, life is easy. Dhawan probably has five to six options for each ball from the part-timer. When a Kagiso Rabada or a Mitchell Starc aims for his throat, the Delhi southpaw has little time and instinctively pulls. This has brought about his downfall far too many times in Test cricket. Yet, another good innings in the subcontinent and Dhawan, is likely to at least be the first backup opener when India tours England or South Africa.
What about Kohli’s woes outside the off-stump? Have they disappeared? All signs point to his weakness still existing. Yet he was an unstoppable juggernaut in the past one year. The ball barely seams about in this part of the World. Enter the Champions Trophy and Kohli was often edging behind off the seamers, one of which was a duck against Lanka, where he edged Nuwan Pradeep to the keeper.
Pujara. Possibly India’s sole hope on tougher tours. The composed, resilient Indian no.3 thrives in his zone, prefers to bat in a bubble, and has come back to the side with a bang. If anything, he, alongside Ajinkya Rahane, are capable of pulling India through from tough situations.
If they don’t, there is no MSD waiting down the order anymore. Ashwin mans the no.6 spot where he has made telling contributions in the sub-continent. But can he do the same on greener tracks? Why India haven’t given the likes of Karun Nair and Manish Pandey game time before the bigger challenges is known only to them. Ashwin may not even be their no.1 spinner in England or South Africa given the way he remains an impatient bowler when wickets are hard to come by.
Against a depleted Lankan attack, India have been domineering. The spinners have been smouldered. The pacers, if any, have been milked and 10 of their batsmen have scored 50+ already in their innings’ in the Island Nation. This Lankan bowling is no better than a club attack.
If India believe that they have ironed out their flaws that flared up against Anderson and co in England a few years back, they are mistaken. They might be racking up mountains of runs but little has been done to address their batting woes outside the sub-continent. For instance, why they persist with Rohit Sharma over Karun Nair or Manish Pandey is the Test squad despite the former’s multiple failures outside India is bizarre. This line-up has a long way to go but they are down the wrong route at the moment, heading fast and quick towards a false dawn, spurred on by a false belief in some of their flat track bullies.