Why India’s looming series against England could define Virat Kohli’s captaincy.
After an excellent run of form at home and the components of a strong and versatile squad, India’s imminent away series against England represents a defining challenge for the number one ranked Test nation. In recent years India have become renowned as a team who dominate at home but struggle away. This year India’s away series against South Africa, England and Australia have presented an opportunity for them to dispel their reputation as poor travellers. After a hard-fought 2-1 series defeat to South Africa these next six months could shape the Virat Kohli era.
India have won all of their most recent home Test series against all of the Test nations. Since 2010 they have won 70% of their home Tests and 69% of their Tests in Asia. However, while they have dominated at home they have struggled away – winning just 30% of Tests away. Their struggles have been particularly acute when playing in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa where they have won just three of their 27 Tests in these countries since 2010, giving them a win percentage of 11% – the only teams worse than them are Sri Lanka, West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
Analysis of India’s batting and bowling averages in Tests shows that their struggles can be explained by drop-offs in their batting and bowling performance when playing outside India.
The primary reason for the decline in India’s performance outside India and Asia is the differing of the conditions and the different types of bowlers that the conditions benefits. Pitches in England bounce a lot more and spin a lot less than pitches in India and the Duke ball – used in England, swings a lot more than the SG ball – used in India.
The product of these different conditions is that in England the large majority of overs are bowled by pace bowlers but in India the large majority of overs are bowled by spin bowlers.
Since 2010 India’s batting has been very strong against spin – averaging 42.36 but they have struggled against pace – averaging 33.00.
With the ball India’s spin bowlers have been exceptional – averaging 29.49 but their pace bowlers have been less effective – averaging 35.09.
The result of all of these factors is that when India have played away Tests their batting has struggled against the high volume of pace overs, their spinners have been less effective and their pace bowlers have not exploited the helpful conditions.
India’s form since Kohli became captain in 2015 has provided grounds for optimism that this team can succeed where others have failed and win matches away from home. Although 28 of India’s 36 Tests since the start of 2015 have been in Asia their batting against pace and their pace bowling have shown signs of improvement – suggesting they are better equipped to cope in pace-friendly conditions than at any point this decade. The table below shows how India’s batting average v pace and pace bowling average have been excellent in 2016 and 2017.
However, despite the promise of 2016 and 2017 India’s batting struggled in their three match series against South Africa earlier this year. Conditions were admittedly excellent for pace bowling but their batsmen found batting against pace hard going and they lost the series 2-1. India’s pace bowlers did at least manage to exploit the conditions effectively suggesting this may not be a false dawn.
England – having won just one of their last nine Tests are there for the taking. A heatwave in the UK is expected to produce drier than normal pitches more suited to spin bowling. India have an opportunity to make history; now they must seize it.
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