Are India (Finally) The Real Deal?

Yes we’ve been here before. The India cricket team win a game convincingly at home and suddenly everyone is comparing them to the great sides of yesteryear. But this time it’s beginning to feel different. This time I really am starting to look at their team sheet with envy. And this time I’m struggling to simply shrug my shoulders and predict it will all go wrong on their next tour outside of Asia.

India have been ruthless in their current series against South Africa. They won the first test convincingly and the second was so one-sided that a boxing referee might have called it off long before the end. The Proteas were on the ropes from the start and Virat Kohli’s team showed absolutely no mercy – which is exactly how it should be.

Although I feel for a South African team weakened by politics and the defection of several leading players to county cricket – how Faf Du Plessis could have used Simon Harmer in this series – it was hard not to admire India’s skill and intensity. And I say that as a purist too.

I love the look of India’s team on paper these days. With Rohit Sharma forming a formidable opening partnership with Mayank Agarwal, who looks like one hell of a find, it’s hard to find any weaknesses in Kohli’s team. One might argue that Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma aren’t the most consistent performers (especially overseas) but the quality of Mohammad Shami, Ravi Ashwin, and Ravi Jadeja is indisputable. And their batting is as silky and delectable as Wriddhiman Saha’s keeping.

In previous eras the knock on India was that they were very good at home, mainly thanks to their canny spinners, but were perennially vulnerable overseas. Virat Kohli’s team has been changing this perception. They’re still better at home than they are overseas, but to call them vulnerable outside of India no longer holds water – they won their last two series away 2-1 in Australia and 2-0 in the West Indies. Compare those results to England’s recent experiences down under and in the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, while other teams have had their recent struggles at home, the India cricket team have just won their eleventh consecutive series. It’s getting pretty hard to bowl them out once let alone beat them outright. South Africa have some good bowlers in Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Keshav Maharaj, but thus far they’ve been plundered for 502-7 dec, 323-4 dec, and now 601-5 dec in their last three innings. India aren’t just very good at home; they’re absolutely brilliant. South Africa will have to play out of their skins to avoid a 0-3 whitewash at the next test in Ranchi which begins on Saturday.

So what makes India so good? Personally I’d argue it’s because they have several proper red ball cricketers – which isn’t something that can be said of many modern international sides. Although Rohit and Agarwal, who now averages a whopping 60 with two centuries and three fifties in his first six tests, might be better known for their white ball exploits (Agarwar initially started life as a limited overs specialist despite his stellar first class average), all their batsmen have impeccable red ball records:

Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli are world class batsmen with both the talent and temperament to post huge scores in all conditions. They both average an astonishing 60 at home in test cricket over a large sample size. Meanwhile, Ajinkya Rahane also has a fine red ball record. In fact, he’s unusual for modern test match batsmen in that he actually averages considerably more away from home (47) than he does at home (35).

India’s spinners are also breaking the mould somewhat. It’s a fallacy that Ashwin and Jadeja are only effective in India. Whilst it’s true that they’re more effective in home conditions – they average 23 and 20 at home respectively – but they’re still good bowlers when they leave Indian shores. Ashwin averages 31, which is very respectable for a spinner, and Jadeja 35.

The biggest challenge for the India cricket team moving forward might be whether they can ultimately replace Sharma and Yadav with younger and more consistent fast bowlers. The former has his moments, and had actually bowled very well over the last couple of years, but now that he’s the wrong side of 30 years old I doubt he’ll ever be the superstar he once promised to be. Meanwhile, although I like Yadav’s pace and skiddy trajectory, and his record at home is very impressive, his career statistics overseas is below adequate.

As an Englishman, I’ve often wondered why Bhuvneshwar Kumar gets overlooked in test cricket. He has a better record than either Ishant or Umesh, and he’s a couple of years younger too. Although he was struggled with injuries I’m surprised that Ravi Shastri sees him purely as a white ball specialist at the current time. It will be interesting to see if he can change perceptions or whether the emerging Navdeep Saini, who is quicker than Kumar, will overtake him permanently.

The star of the attack however, and perhaps the single biggest reason why this era in India cricket feels different, is obviously Yasprit Bumrah. All world class sides need a bowler with pace, and Bumrah provides this in spades. With a test average of 19 in his first 12 tests, one expects Bumrah to climb the world rankings steadily until he reaches the very top. The fact that he’s third already, despite never playing a test at home, is pretty remarkable.

If he Bumrah can recover fully from the stress fracture that’s keeping him out of the South Africa series, and can stay injury free moving forwards, then he has the opportunity to become one of India’s best ever fast bowlers. Although they’ve produced quality seamers before, like Kapil Dev and one of my personal favourites Javagal Srinath, there’s something unique about Bumrah which we haven’t seen in an Indian team for some time. He’s burly, a little unorthodox, and great to watch. His battle for top spot in the rankings with Rabada and Jofra Archer over the comings years should be an interesting subplot to keep an eye on.

For many years the India cricket team were a side with huge latent potential. Now it looks like they’re finally beginning to harness their massive population of 1.4 billion people. Yes there is still work to be done, but with reports of improving facilities and increased professionalism, one wonders if this is the start of a long period international dominance.

There may only be one Virat Kohli and one Jasprit Bumrah at the moment, but in ten years’ time India’s team could consist of eleven equally talented players. It’s quite a scary prospect really. And there’s not a fat lot anyone can do to stop them.

James Morgan

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  • The key to India’s cricketing success is there’s no other sporting distraction of note. Cricket is their national game and their youngsters, no matter what’s background they come from seem obsessed with it. Any patch of waste ground ground seems to be occupied by youngsters playing the game. Like youngsters here a few decades ago they don’t need anything more than a ball, something that will suffice as a bat and an upturned box for wickets. Almost every Indian team of note has players who have come from this sort of background.
    Here, parents infected with the media’s paedophile mania, don’t let their kids out “play out” anymore, so there’s only club, where there is one and school, if they have teacher interested enough, for cricket to build on. Just try to get about in this country during the school run. Kids aren’t allowed to have legs anymore and need chaperoning everywhere and we wonder why there’s a growing problem with obesity. Parents seem quite happy for them to sit and play fantasy computer games instead, getting their exercise by proxy. The irony of this is kids are getting groomed by on line paedophilia as a result.
    Sorry about the diatribe, but it’s a pet peeve of mine.

      • Whenever you see film of Indian kids playing sport off the cuff it’s either cricket or soccer. I can’t ever remember seeing hockey being played in the poorer area where most of the population live.

  • Yup, hard to argue with your assessment – India’s two biggest historical problems have been at the top of the batting order and with a lack of pace bowlers. The evidence is compelling that this Indian squad suffers neither weakness – every other test nation would give their eye teeth to have Sharma and Agarwal opening their batting, and most would happily accept India’s pace bowling options as well.

  • Rohit Sharma obviously looks great in home conditions, but would be surprised if he was any good against the moving ball in Eng and NZ, as well as the rather different pitches in Aus and SA. We will see in the next couple of years – although on the other hand, they also have Prithvi Shaw as an opener, who has looked like the real deal in the few Tests he’s played so far.

  • India won fair and square in Australia but with some help – no Smith, no Warner, no Gabba and very flat pitches. We can be amazingly hospitable at times

  • Interesting to note that no ones criticising this Indian team for being flat track bullies. No one implied the present England one day team was the real deal. There were always provisos about the pitches.
    It’s a lot easier for the bowlers when their batsmen have put the game beyond the opponent’s reach. They can attack and keep plenty of close catchers round the bat with impunity.

    • The pitch was good for batting but South Africa were knocked over quickly twice so it couldn’t have been that flat. It’s not like we’ve had a succession of bore draws. The pitches in India also usually offer a lot of turn, so it’s not a like for like situation really.

      • This SA side is really really really poor.. Lets me honest.. It’s very very second rate now

      • But it was flat for the Indian batsmen, which is the comparison I’m making with Englands batsmen. When you’re batting facing the prospect of saving the game at best and the pitch has already been at it’s best, on day’s 3,4 and 5 it’s a different story.
        As has been said this South African side is pretty mediocre. I think even we could give them a game.
        I certainly don’t feel comfortable with our counties part in the Kolpack deals that are contributing to this. We want to see all the test playing countries able to select their best players free of restrictions.

    • The Pitches were boringly flat which allows some technically suspect batsmen to cash in. Add that to the much vaunted South Africa now being a really poor team allowed India to plunder runs…

      Was it a measure of this Indian teams ‘Skill’.. not really.. Was it a measure of simply how poor a test wicket it was .. Yes.. Was it a measure of how far SA has fallen since Smith/Kallis/AB/Steyn etc …. Yes.

      No doubt when England go there and win this SA team will be built up as a great side again to make England seem good

  • So the argument India are now a strong team away from home is based on winning against a Smith-less and Warner-less Australia and winning against WI who were without Roach and lose to everyone except England?

    Agarwal’s untested outside Asia, Rohit is tested and found useless, only Kohli and to a lesser extent Pujara and Rahane could be trusted to make runs. How many of the bowlers average under 30 away or outside Asia? India have better seam options than they used to have but that’s not saying a great deal.

    They lost in England and they lost in SA (albeit on some heavily doctored pitches). The great WI and Australia sides could win away in different conditions. India are still way off that.

    They’re formidable at home and the best Test team curently. They should be with their size and wealth. Some key rivals have been systematically asset stripped and don’t stand a snowball’s of being No.1 again.

  • Rohit Sharma and the moving ball: even Sehwag would like like Bradman in comparison to him in England. Can only bat in benign home conditions or on the N3 motorway in England. So keep on getting carried away by a game that does not even aspire to mediocrity these days …

    Honestly, it is time to think of renaming Test cricket to Toss cricket. Last 10 tosses between those sides will have resulted in 9 victories for the toss winner. With the sole non-win coming from a washout (toss was looking extremely good in that one too).

    India on the road to England / SA / Australia have won 3 tosses for 3 wins. On the road to the same opposition, and losing the toss, they have won 1 and lost 7. And honestly the figures for Australia / England do not look much better. As for South Africa, it is hard to remember of hand when they last won a game after losing the toss.

    Toss cricket is in great shape.

  • And as for the great Ashwin, he has completed all of 1 away tour against sides other than Sri Lanka and West Indies in which he featured in every match. That was against Australia, in 2011/2012, when India were whitewashed. His bowling was rather ineffective, but he was the second best batsman in that series.

    Somehow I don’t think that makes one a great bowler (and if you check the wickets against the West Indies and Sri Lanka make it appear as if he is bowling well outside of India – both of which nations tend to favour spin bowling substantially). Just as I would not call Anderson a world class bowler, because he really struggles away from Blighty (1 fifer in Australia in 30-odd attempts and that was the D/N Test too, which in Australia is obviously more suited to him than regular conditions there).

    That is a bit like saying the much maligned Adil Rashid (and to be fair, he never got series to cash in) has a good bowling record in away Tests.


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