“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” - Benjamin Franklin.
Winning eight Test series on the trot is an envious record by most standards in world cricket. Virat Kohli-led India are on a roll. They have conquered most challenges that have come their way, at least in the longest format.
The success story, though, isn’t complete. A few vital chapters establishing the plot are still unwritten.
India’s victories in series against South Africa, New Zealand, Bangladesh, England and Australia have already proved they are top dogs at home. The challenge for India now is to prove their might overseas.
Of the Test series scheduled so far, India travel to South Africa in January. Later, they are slated to make trip to England in mid 2018 for a five-Test series.
Both South Africa and England offer unique tests. Obviosuly, spin won’t be as potent a weapon as it was during India’s home series or even during the tours of Sri Lanka and West Indies.
Between now and the South Africa series, the only Tests India play would once again be against Sri Lanka. India’s 3-0 whitewash win in the island nation has already underscored the gap in class.
But, keeping the immediate future in sight, it appears some of India’s top talents are exploring stints in the County Championships to improve their skills in the longer format.
Reports suggest that star spinner R Ashwin and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja will turn up to play in the County Championships in England after being rested for the five-match ODI series against Sri Lanka.
While Ashwin is slated to play for Worchesteshire, Jadeja is yet to finalise a team. Top-order batsman, Cheteshwar Pujara, who played had a short stint with Nottinghamshire in April-May will return to England for another tenure.
Worchestershire is looking to be promoted back to top division of the County Championship and will rely on their star acquisition to show them the way. India next play Australia in a limited overs series from September 17. If Ashwin is picked for the series, he would only get to play two games. It’s unclear how much help two games would have on his form overseas, the move, though, has set a great precedent for players, who seek to make a mark overseas.
Asked about the importance of playing County cricket, Pujara said it would help players improve skills, considering the upcoming overseas tours.
“As a team we have played good cricket in the home season. but I believe we as a side can do really well overseas,” said Pujara. “Playing County cricket will definitely help. It always helps one improve their skills When playing in challenging conditions. I am sure it will help us when we play overseas,” he added.
In the past, even Kohli has come forward to remind us of the virtues of a stint in England’s County Championships. The 28-year-old had said he would enjoy at least a month’s time to get used to conditions.
“If I have a chance, I would love to do that; love to be there, say a month or a month and a half and get used to playing in those conditions, understand how the wickets behave in that particular phase of the year,” Kohli was quoted as saying.
“I think those things matter a lot. Preparation time is something, which is very crucial for any side. So yeah, if I have the opportunity to go there a few days before the start that will be great. I have actually been thinking about it, trying to work out how I can make it happen. Most definitely, if I have the time I’ll go and play there,” he added.
Ashwin won’t be the first Indian bowler to have played for Worchestershire. Former India pacer Zaheer Khan had enjoyed a successful stint at the County in 2005. His impressive showing there had earned him his place back in the Indian side.
Blessing in disguise
Ashwin and Jadeja were given the green light to play in the County Championship after the selection committee decided to have them rotated out of the limited overs side so as to test other players on the bench.
India’s chief selector MSK Prasad said on Monday that the county contracts came as a bit of a surprise to the team think-tank and the plan was to rest Ashwin and Jadeja. He however added that this could be a blessing in disguise for India.
“To tell you the truth, it was resting first and then only [them playing county cricket],” Prasad said. “Of course whatever little we know that they have been contacting our players but from a selection point of view we never knew they have been contacting and the moment these people are rested with the board consent they have given confirmation to the counties.”
“We can say it is a blessing in disguise if Test players like Pujara and Ashwin [play in England]. Ashwin is a part of other formats too, but it is a blessing in disguise for both of them because we will have a full fledged tour in June of five Tests in England next year. So its always good to play and get that first hand feel of the conditions which is going to happen in the summer after that,” he added.
Both Ashwin and Jadeja have played just one series apiece in England and South Africa. Ashwin played just two Tests in England, bagging just three wickets at an average of 33.66. In South Africa, he played one Test, but went wicket-less.
Jadeja, by contrast played four Tests in England, but fared poorly with just nine wickets at a poor average of 46.66. In South Africa, he played just one Test, but came away from the encounter with six wickets in an innings. The haul, though, did not amount to much as the Proteas went on to score 500 and clinched the match by 10 wickets.
Need for overseas exposure
While India’s success in Tests in recent years has been impressive, it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Of the eight series they have won, only three of those series wins have come away from home. That these away series wins came against relatively weaker teams - West Indies and Sri Lanka - have only added interest in knowing how the all-conquering side would fair overseas against tougher opponents.
India has relied heavily on its spinners for success in the longest format. They have played an important role in the positive results the team has churned out over the course of the past two years.
The team has also been accused of pining for spin friendly wickets over the long home season. Turning wickets were exploited well by both Ashwin and Jadeja, who have soared to the top of the ICC Bowlers’ rankings on back of their splendid numbers achieved in the past year.
The challenge in South Africa and England would be quite different. That these teams were presented with dust bowls as soon as they landed in India, rules out the possibility of Kohli’s men being doled out the same courtesy.
If the spinners want to play a notable role in India’s quest for overseas success, then they would need suitable preparation. The reported move by Ashwin and Jadeja to seek experience in England signals a new wave of thought.
While many Indian cricketers have shown an inkling of playing in England, not many have made the journey in recent years. Pujara, one of the few to have taken the plunge, has already harped on the importance of playing in challenging conditions that the County season has to offer.
Ashwin and Jadeja are setting a new precedent where spinners are seeking experience in English conditions. The move signals a desire to learn. Instead of resting on their past laurels achieved at home, the two are showing a desire to learn new aspects of their craft.
The duo could have easily taken the time off, but they are instead choosing to strive further for the bigger challenge that awaits them in a few months’ time.
Despite their best intentions, it is only favourable results which would quantify their hard work. Only time will tell if this preparation would translate into success or failure.