If Indian head coach Ravi Shastri is to be believed, the current squad is the best travelling Indian side in the last 15 to 20 years. Shastri’s judgment is based on the three overseas victories, one in West Indies and two in Sri Lanka in the last three years. While he stands correct when it comes to these facts, the reality is a bit different when it comes to touring SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand, and Australia).
While no one takes anything away from team’s victories in West Indies and Sri Lanka, even Shatri would know that the best travelling sides tackle and overcome tough conditions against top Test playing nations on their home ground. For India, that challenge has consistently been posed by SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand, and Australia) countries in the last decade or so.
The Australia tour has already begun for India on a bad note with a four-run loss against the hosts in the first T20I at The Gabba in Brisbane. The Tests are still two weeks away and this is where India’s biggest test lies. The visitors were handed a 0-4 drubbing on 2011-12 tour and on the last tour, they returned after losing the series 0-2.
Keeping in mind the potential in the team and with two of Australia’s top Test players banned, this is India’s best chance to improve on the bad record they have Down Under.
Former India spinner Murali Kartik feels India have covered all bases pretty well on this tour.
“It is not a 15-member or a 16-member squad. There is no question of limiting your option. They have got enough people there. They have covers for every player. I think whatever they have in terms of ammunition, I think, everyone is there in Australia,” opined the ESPNcricinfo expert Kartik.
India have sent an 18-member squad to Australia because the team does not want to take any chances this time around with injuries or players running out of form. Kartik believes it will be a test of some of the key future prospects in the team as well, including Rishabh Pant.
“Someone like Wriddhiman Saha has not recovered who is among the best keepers in the country and it will be interesting to see how Rishabh Pant is going to play there. It will be closely contested series,” he said.
The first Test in Adelaide is on 6 December and it will be a tough task yet again for the management to pick the best XI. The Kohli-led India has taken some brave as well as ordinary calls on previous tours to South Africa and England.
Before the Adelaide Test, the selection conundrum is expected to trouble the management yet again. The Adelaide track is generally known for giving help to the spinners. Ravichandran Ashwin should be a certain starter in the playing XI because of his good record in Australia. He took 12 wickets in the 3 Tests there on India's last tour. If it is a spinning track, India might want to give Kuldeep Yadav a go, ahead of Jadeja but Kartik thinks differently.
“It is a very tough one (to pick either Kuldeep or Jadeja). But if you look at Ravindra Jadeja’s performance in Test cricket, there is no reason for him to get dropped. It all depends on the surface. Some would say Kuldeep should play. There is a general perception that Adelaide and Sydney are more suitable to spinners but it is not necessary that ball will spin there because these pitches are flat tracks.
“Yes, there are days when the ball spins in Australia because there are hard wickets and the wear and tear happens, the bowlers’ footmarks also create a rough patch on the pitch. Australian pitches are literally rough. It is not the rough that you get in the subcontinent. From that point of view, depending upon the surface, I will still go with Ravindra Jadeja. He has not done anything wrong to not get a place. At the Oval, he did all he could both with ball and the bat. All of these things add for the continuity which is very important for the team. I would go with Ravichandran Ashwin and Jadeja if the need for playing only two spinners arises,” the former India spinner added.
There had been talks about trying Yuzvendra Chahal in Tests as well. The leggie has been brilliant for India in white-ball cricket but Kartik feels that it is yet not the right time to pick him up in the side.
He said, “Just because somebody is bowling four overs and ten overs, does not mean he becomes a Test match bowler. There are guys who have done well in four-day cricket and Test match cricket consistently, that’s the reason why they are playing. There is a reason behind every selection.”
Bowling, however, is not India’s biggest headache. Batting is. The batting line-up despite boasting of some big names has not been able to consistently pile-up runs and that has led to India’s poor performance overseas. The trouble really starts from the top with the opening pair, which India has chopped and changed too many times in the recent past.
In the last Test series, Prithvi Shaw and KL Rahul were a huge success and Kartik feels that there is no need to break the continuity. He said, “Again you have to look at the continuity. You have given a chance to Shaw who has done well in the two Test matches he played. Rahul just got a hundred recently. Yes, Murali Vijay’s overseas record is good. His record in Australia is good but he was dropped after the two Test matches in England and other people have been given chances in his place and they have done well. So, I don’t think there should be any change in the first Test match when it comes to the opening combination.”
The Test series will also test two of best batsmen to have come out of Mumbai in recent times — Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. Rohit, who has been blooded into the squad yet again after string failures in South Africa, might not get many opportunities to cement his position in the Test team. As for Rahane, who has lost the old habit of scoring big runs abroad, coming back into the past mode is the huge task before it is too late.
For Kartik, playing Rohit in Tests will be a huge call. He said, “It is tough to say whether he should play or not. It will depend on how he goes in T20s and what conditions are. India need 2 spinners and 3 seamers or vice-versa, how do you fit him in the team because both Ashwin and Jadeja can bat. It will be interesting to see if he plays.”
On the other hand, Kartik added that Rahane’s form is not a huge concern and it is a mental issue that has prevailed with him for some time now. He said, “With Rahane, it is a mental thing. I don’t think it is any technical thing. He is a rock solid player. He is a well-established player. He is the vice-captain of the side. He is a calm head whom the captain turns to. Once he gets into the habit of scoring big runs, he will back in his zone.”