New Zealand showed their class with a smashing victory over India in the inaugural WTC final.
While the game was a tense arm-wrestle for most of the time, a familiar collapse for India set up the game for New Zealand.
Now, India have had a lot of success of late, including their best ever Test series win at the start of the year.
However, there are still a few lingering problems for them that they must overcome to prove that this generation under Virat Kohli is truly great.
In the remainder of 2021, India have away Test series against England and South Africa, with two massive statements possible for them.
The trembling trio
India’s batting has constantly struggled in swinging and seaming bowling conditions. The final defeat followed a very similar script of the two hammerings India received against the Black Caps last year.
Now, I do not blame the likes of a Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal or Prithvi Shaw for struggling considering it may be their first difficult tours.
A major chunk of the blame has to be on the experienced trio of Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane. Yes, they are a very talented middle order but they have really struggled in recent times.
India can’t afford for them to just be okay in order to win matches, no matter where they play.
Pujara has not scored a hundred since January, 2019, averaging 28.03 since then. He also only averaged 16.67 and 20.86, respectively, in previous tours of South Africa and England, barring an unbeaten Southampton hundred.
Kohli also has not scored a hundred since late 2019, averaging 24.64 since 2020.
Rahane’s struggles have been ongoing for a while, averaging 31.48 since November 2016, against every other side except West Indies. His career average used to be healthily above 50.
One positive viewpoint is despite overall underwhelming numbers, these three have still had impactful innings in tough conditions, e.g. Rahane and Pujara in Australia.
All three have had success, at varying levels, in the UK and South Africa, and will need to step up.
If these three players are on point, India will be a different beast and it can allow the batting of Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja to be more free-flowing.
If India made the brave decision of dropping one of the three (they have done before), unfortunately the current replacements, KL Rahul and Hanuma Vihari, may still not be up to the plate themselves.
There has also often been opening disorder for India in overseas conditions. However, I have faith in Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill – they often get decent starts just need a few big innings between them.
Getting the opposition tail out has been such a huge problem for India. Whether it’s Vernon Philander, Sam Curran, Pat Cummins or Kyle Jamieson, India just can’t wrap up the final wickets and have squandered potential winning positions because of it.
What amplifies the problem even more is that India’s own batting tail has offered pretty much nothing. None of the main pacers offer anything with the bat.
Ravichandran Ashwin has also struggled a lot at No.8 in recent times, with his brave efforts at the SCG and a century against England being the exception.
Here are some of the facts.
Since 2018, in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia) conditions India takes a wicket at an average of 21.35 runs after the fall of the sixth wicket.
Batting wise, their average is 18.17, which is boosted by a couple of big partnerships: a 204-run partnership between Pant and Jadeja (SCG, 2018) and 123 between Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar (Gabba, 2021).
When we narrow the data to the average amount of runs between batters 9-11 each innings, the contrast is clearer.
Opposition teams average 31 runs, while India averages a measly 13. India desperately need their bowlers to show some competency with the bat in future away tours.
Note, India’s problem of bowlers being poor with the bat pairs with their problem of a lack of batsman who can bowl part-time, a noteworthy problem for them in white-ball cricket.
I believe a reason for this specialist only problem is due to the competitive nature of Indian cricket.
Youngsters are told to focus on the major part of their game in order to stand out among millions. However, having that second skill is also very important and should be a culture implemented to eventually strengthen the Indian team.
Australia does it very well, with a lot of fast bowlers being handy with the bat and many batters fancying themselves as part-timers.
Virat Kohli has done a lot for Indian cricket. He’s their most successful all-format batsman and off raw numbers, is the most successful captain.
However, there is still a monkey on his back: major tournaments. Kohli often succumbs to the pressure in the finals of a major tournament, a representation of the Indian team itself.
It was a given from the start India would qualify for the WTC final, and fans were expecting a win no matter who the opposition. Yet, like the 2017 Champions Trophy and 2019 World Cup, Kohli and the Indian team crumbled.
There is a belief going around Indian fans that Kohli doesn’t have it in him to get that medal in his pocket. This is heightened by his constant IPL failure with a stacked team and by India’s success in Australia without him under Rahane.
A positive for Kohli is he still has many opportunities to redeem himself, in each format. As mentioned, upcoming Test tours can be used to silence the doubters, as well as back-to-back T20 World Cups and a home ODI World Cup in 2023. It is still very naïve to write Kohli off.
India have an interesting finish to 2021.
They have the tools to succeed, just have not had everything clicking together at the same time, especially away from home.
India have many issues to address in the England series, against a weak English side.
An important series even from an Australian viewpoint, potentially determining England’s mental state going into the Ashes.