@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read
Under Virat Kohli, India’s Test team has reached heights never witnessed before – the upcoming England tour could be the best chance for them to reach the upper echelons of greatness.
Two decades ago, Steve Waugh declared India as the ‘final frontier’ for Australia’s rampant Test force, which was often compared to Don Bradman’s ‘1948’ Invincibles and West Indies’s famed unit of the Eighties. Since then, no team has dominated Test cricket as comprehensively, but there have been streaks of excellence nonetheless.
Virat Kohli’s India is one such dominating force, a team revolving around the success of its formidable bowling attack, and supported well by the array of batting stars in its ranks. Ever since he took over the baton from MS Dhoni in late-2014, Kohli has been at the helm of a remarkable evolution. Today, he is India’s most successful Test captain, and India’s win/loss ratio of 2.857 in his tenure as captain is by far the highest for any team.
It’s a record that is helped, no doubt, to a large extent by complete home domination, but the side has also managed historic victories abroad, shedding the long-attached tag of being poor travellers. Within the same period, their win/loss ratio of 1.25 away from home is also the highest among all teams.
Dual series wins in Australia, and triumphs in the Caribbean and Sri Lanka have all been key milestones in India’s march. There’s little to debate that this is India’s best Test outfit in a lot of years, probably ever. However, if there is one place India would want to find success in, it’s England.
Kohli’s predecessor, MS Dhoni, is widely regarded as a great white-ball captain and a sufficient Test leader, but there’s always a hidden asterisk next to the second one, owing to his substandard record abroad. Across the last three tours to England, India managed just two wins, with the 0-4 drubbing in 2011 kickstarting a trough that Dhoni could never really recover from.
As Kohli and his team continue to build their own legacy, the 2021 tour of England will be the true test of their greatness, Kohli’s own final frontier. And this could be the best chance for his team to live up to that tag.
This time, the England challenge isn’t as intimidating, for there are apparent chinks in the hosts’ defence. Alastair Cook, the departing hero of 2018, is long gone, leaving behind a wobbly top-three that is yet to be completely settled. Jos Buttler, England’s top run-getter in the last series (349 runs @ 38.77) has played just three Tests in the last 12 months. It’s a similar case with Ben Stokes, whose stocks rose exponentially after the 2019 Ashes, but has also not been a regular part of the Test unit, playing just four Tests since last August. In a T20 World Cup year, a lot of the focus has been on white-ball cricket, and keeping players fresh with ample breaks.
To top it, their batting talisman Joe Root has encountered a sort of a dip at home, with just one Test century in his last 27 matches in England. Since the start of 2018, he averages 32.79 at home, well below his career average of 48.68.
A combination of these factors could work heavily against England, who might consider themselves a tad underprepared to welcome India. Kohli’s side faltered at the World Test Championship final but spent a sizeable time reading English conditions in their preparation for it, an exercise that continues even a month later.
While England played white-ball series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, India’s players indulged in a tour game at the same time, with most of their first-choice players getting vital game time. Separately, Hanuma Vihari and Ravichandran Ashwin enjoyed brief county stints too; the manner in which Ashwin ran through Somerset would have sent some alarm bells ringing.
The second-ranked team in the ICC rankings, India return to make amends for their underwhelming performance on the 2018 tour, looking to win their first series in England in 14 years. When India visit next, four years from now, the Kohlis, Ashwins and Pujaras might have already moved on. There won’t be a better chance to improve India’s skewed record in England, to enhance this team’s reputation of being one of their greatest-ever Test sides, and to power past Kohli’s final frontier.
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