SANE. That’s not quite India’s approach to Test series, it represents the four countries below India in the ICC rankings (not in order, though, but it’s a useful acronym to remember ): South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, England. India remain on top without having won a single series in those countries since 2011. In the same period, South Africa, the second-placed team, have won series in Australia (twice), New Zealand (twice) and England.
So, while it is good to celebrate a tenth consecutive series win at home having beaten the Windies in two Tests over just six days, India must ask themselves a few uncomfortable questions. Is it enough to be tigers at home while continuing as lambs abroad - the traditional description of Indian teams since Independence - or should there be a greater push to better the away record?
I am not sure when the philosophy was first articulated. But for a while now, it has seemed that Indian teams are not so fussed about losing abroad so long as they keep winning at home. Four years ago, after a wipe-out in England (1-4), India took on the Windies at home for an easy series that was cut short when the visitors returned home amidst a battle with their own cricket board. Sri Lanka were then invited for a one-day series.
Following the earlier tour of England (India lost 0-4), it was the Windies who provided succour at home, rolling over and dying on schedule. The fans were happy, the cricket board was happy. Then India went to Australia and returned with a 0-4 thrashing. There was talk of skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni losing his job. There was much hand-wringing and might-have-beens. But in the end, home was where the heart - and success - was.
The figures are telling. While at home, India have won 28 of 38 Tests against SANE, losing just three since 2011, and claimed six series out of seven (the defeat came in the Alastair Cook-led England of 2012-13), abroad the record in 30 Tests is just three won and 21 lost. The series record is 0-8.
It is true that most teams these days win more at home than away, and all the SANE countries have struggled in India. But there is greater balance in South Africa’s record. They have played the same number of Tests, 23, both at home and away, winning 12 at home and eight away. They have lost the same number of Tests, home and away, seven.
It is against this background that India’s tour of Australia commencing next month should be viewed. Skipper Virat Kohli had said during one of the home wins recently that he didn’t distinguish between home and away, and went into a game looking for a win. It is a commendable attitude.
When he took over the reins on the last tour following Dhoni’s retirement, he immediately displayed a positive attitude that nearly won the opening Test in Adelaide. He himself made a century in each innings, and India fell short by just 48 runs chasing 364.
Yet it took the most recent disaster in England for the coach to suggest that perhaps India might need proper matches for acclimatisation. Australia will be without Steve Smith and Dave Warner, two batsmen who have troubled India (and not just India) in recent years.
But if their performances in the UAE against Pakistan are any indication, the green baggy caps continue to inspire their players to perform above themselves. It is a mistake to underestimate an Australian side - India have never won a series there, not even in 1977-78 when the team was decimated by the Packer defections.
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