Despite India’s Australian miracle early this year, Virat Kohli’s men face their toughest challenge yet in the English summer.
Prodigious swing from the New Zealand and England pace attacks has been Indian batsmen’s Achilles Heel on greenish surfaces in recent years.
Barring Kohli’s redemption in 2018 after his nightmarish run against the James Anderson-inspired England four years earlier, Indian batsmen have rarely found the answers to the seam and swing mysteries.
So can the Indian batsmen finally bury the ghosts of the past when they encounter the world-class Kiwi and English swing bowlers in the inaugural ICC World Test Championship final (June 18-22) and the five-match away Test series against England?
Dilip Vengsarkar, the architect of India’s 2-0 Test series win on English soil in 1986 and the only foreign batsman to have scored three Test hundreds at Lord’s, feels the Indians have what it takes to perform on England wickets.
But the former Indian captain says few technical and mental adjustments are required to counter the challenge.
SIDE-ON STANCE AND NO BIG DRIVES
Discipline and patience will be key to survival in England, according to Vengsarkar.
“We were lucky those days that we had quite a few side games against the counties. So we could get acclimatised to the conditions, the moving ball. The thing is that once you get acclimatised, the important factor is that, to counter the extra movement, especially off the wicket, it’s important to stay side-on (batting stance),” Vengsarkar told Khaleej Times.
“And don’t go for big drives to start with because the ball moves quite a bit and if you go for big drive when you see a half volley, you are likely to end up in slips or anywhere. So just push the ball rather than going for the big drives.”
DIFFERENT SEASONS IN A SINGLE DAY
Having scored 960 Test runs in England with four hundreds during an 11-year span (1979-1990), Vengsarkar experienced the whole gamut of emotions while dealing with the England swing bowlers in fickle weather conditions.
“In England sometimes you get overcast conditions and the ball starts moving, then suddenly you get sunshine and it becomes a good batting wicket,” he recalls.
“You get different seasons in one day in England. So, you, as a batsman, are never settled. In India, once you are set and score 30 plus runs, you can score a big innings. But that doesn’t happen in England. You are never set as such, you know. The ball moves around quite a bit and you have to be careful.”
KOHLI NEEDS SUPPORT
Vengsarkar agrees that it will be too much to expect Kohli to bail the team out every time. Despite the Indian captain’s 593 runs in five Tests, India had lost the 2018 England series 4-1.
“There are talented players in the (Indian) team. Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, they are world-class cricketers. But it is also important for other players to chip in, you know, because you can’t depend only on two players. If you are playing Test match cricket, everybody has to contribute.”
BCCI SHOULD ORGANISE MORE PRACTICE GAMES
Barring one intra-squad match, the Indian team will start their Test campaign without proper match practice. And Vengsarkar says it’s not only important for batsmen to have practice games, even bowlers can struggle without match practice.
“It’s important to have matches. You have practice (net sessions), but the important thing is to have matches and spend time in the middle, not just for the batsmen, but for the fast bowlers and spinners as well. By spending time in the middle, they know what length to hit,” he says.
The lack of tour matches has been a problem for the Indian team in recent years, Vengsarkar admits.
“That has been a problem for the past 10 years now. Look, when you go to Australia, England, and New Zealand, the conditions are so different. You need practice matches to get acclimatised to the conditions.
“So it’s important for BCCI also to organise more practice matches rather than having just one practice game before the start of the Test series. Otherwise, you struggle in the first Test match.”
INDIA HAVE ALL-ROUND STRENGTH
Vengsarkar, nevertheless, feels India have the edge over their opponents, New Zealand, in the WTC final at Southampton.
“If you compare the New Zealand team to the Indian team, man to man, the Indian team looks the better team,” he says.
“Of course, Trent Boult is a world-class bowler and Kane Williamson is a world-class batsman. But India is a more all-round team. We have got quality spinners (Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja), we have got quality fast bowlers (Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj) and quality batters as well."
WILL THE AUSTRALIAN VICTORY INSPIRE INDIA?
Vengsarkar feels India’s ground-breaking achievement in beating a full-strength Australian team Down Under with an injury-hit squad will inspire Kohli’s men in England.
“Definitely. India’s performance, especially after the first Test match (at Adelaide where they are all out for 36), when their main players got injured, the way the young cricketers played was fantastic. I think the victory in Australia was the best in Indian cricket for many years,” he says.
“To beat Australia in Australia is amazing. The way the youngsters played, it has given the team more options now. Now when they play against England, I am sure they will play extremely well.”
COLONEL TAKES A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE
Finally, Vengsarkar, who was known as the Colonel for his regal stroke-play in his heyday, remembered how he became the first Indian batsman hit to a hundred at Lord’s since 1952.
“The first time I played on my first (England) tour in 1979, it was the first time I played at the Lord’s and scored a hundred,” says Vengsarkar.
“Before me, in 1952 Vinoo Mankad had scored a hundred. And for all those years, from 1952 to 1979, no Indian batsman had scored a hundred at Lord’s.
"Then when I scored a hundred at Lord’s in 1986, (his third at Lord’s with the second one coming in 1982), that was the first time India won a Test match at Lord’s. Headingley was also a very important hundred as we won that (1986) series.”