Are this India Test team actually that good?

Will Ford
Virat.Kohli India PA

After eight games of the World Test Championship, India are all but nailed on to be one of the two teams battling it out in the final in June of next year. They comfortably overcame West Indies away, battered South Africa on home soil and walked all over Bangladesh. But after seven wins from seven, they crumbled to a 10 wicket defeat at the hands of New Zealand in Wellington. And while the loss could easily be seen as a mere blip in the continued rise of a great Indian team and calls for panic stations to be manned are without doubt premature, there is also a case to be made that this Indian side maybe aren’t as good as has been widely touted. Their first major test has seen them totally capitulate.

Virat Kohli said after defeat in the first Test that India “had let themselves down massively” after scoring just 165 in their first innings, and that his side “didn’t show enough competitiveness”. The Indian skipper has famously high standards, both for himself and for his team, and can at times be unnecessarily critical. But not on this occasion. India were outplayed in every department.

Tim Southee and Trent Boult just did what they almost always do – bowl brilliantly, with no fuss and no frills. And along with Test debutant Kyle Jamieson – who was superb in the first innings in particular – completely tore the Indian batting lineup apart. The region typically known as the corridor of uncertainty – the narrow line on and just outside a batsman’s off stump – quickly becomes the runway of disbelief when India play against seamers consistently capable of moving the ball off the straight away from home, when such an ability truly makes a difference.

Kohli is among the worst exponents of the flirtation with balls outside off-stump – he just can’t help himself. The India captain is one of the greatest batsmen the world has ever seen, in full flow there is no-one better to watch. But the bowlers don’t really need a specific plan to get him out. Just bowl where you’ve been taught to for the whole of your cricket career and with a bit of abiotic assistance he will make the mistake. Unless he stays in for an hour, then you’re f****d.

India have been fortunate in the way that the fixtures have fallen for them in this inaugural World Test Championship. Avoiding trips to South Africa and England, where seam and swing are king, and playing just two Test matches in New Zealand – the second of which starts on Friday 28. Kohli will be supremely confident ahead of five Test matches against England at home where Ravichandran Ashwin will likely bamboozle India to victory, but playing the likes of Stuart Broad and James Anderson on an overcast day at Headingley would make for sleepless nights were the shoe on the other foot.

Steve Waugh – along with many others, myself included – has lauded the Indian bowling attack, which is perhaps the major facet leading the clamour for this side to be recognised among the very best of all time. In the past they have not had the stellar seam bowling attack alongside the inevitable Indian batting depth and spin expertise, but now some say they have the “best bowling lineup in the world”.

But in Wellington, led by pin-up boy Jasprit Bumrah, they fell well short of their New Zealand counterparts, who are as often overlooked as a bowling unit as the Indians are over-hyped. The 2-1 series victory in Australia in January 2019 was a groundbreaking moment for India, a moment when their pace and skill as fast bowlers truly came to the fore. But since then they haven’t really been tested, until now, until this series against New Zealand where their ability has so far paled in comparison to Southee and Boult.

The second Test match in Christchurch is huge for India, a chance to prove the doubters wrong. And the list of sceptics may thus far fit on to a post-it note, but that could soon be upgraded to a Pukka Pad should those same predictable problems persist.

 

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