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India in the 4th innings

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India_Sri_Lanka_Test_Cricket_4th_inningsMost Test teams, if they are in an advantageous position with their foot on the opponent’s throat, know how to press home the advantage and win. The true test of a team is when it can force a win even when conditions are not in their favour and when they need to dig deep to get a positive result.

That is easier said then done, especially away from home. Barring South Africa and sometimes Australia, most teams are poor travelers away from home, which is reflected in the superiority of home sides recently.

The table below gives the record of the top 8 Test playing nations at home (including the UAE for Pakistan) in the new millennium.

 

Team

M

W

L

Draw

W/L Ratio

Australia

101

73

12

16

6.09

India

89

50

12

27

4.17

England

124

71

27

26

2.63

South Africa

88

53

21

14

2.52

Sri Lanka

92

47

24

21

1.96

Pakistan

62

29

16

17

1.81

New Zealand

73

29

21

23

1.38

West Indies

83

22

34

27

0.65

 

India has the 2nd best Win-Loss ratio at home behind Australia. However, can their record at home be even better? To borrow a term from baseball, no team can bat a .1000 even with their greatest ever team and in familiar conditions. That is because we are in era where no team is head and shoulders ahead of their nearest rivals like the West Indies teams of the late 1970s and 1980s and the Australian teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The vagaries of cricket mean that teams are bound to lose a few games. This Indian team will be touring South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand over the next 15 months and any questions as to how great they are can be answered only after seeing their performances away from home. For now, we will restrict ourselves to their performances at home in the 4th innings since 1st January, 2000.

There is no doubt that India has an almost unstained record at home. Over the 26 Tests they have played since 2013, they have won 20, lost one and drawn 6. That is a stupendous record even by the highest of standards.

Am I nitpicking and being churlish by saying that they can do even better at home in the 4th innings? Out of India’s last 26 Tests at home, they lost once to Australia on what Shane Warne called an 8th Day pitch on the first day of the match. Otherwise, they only seemed troubled in the first Test against England at Rajkot last November.

 

There is no question that batting on Day 5 of a Test in the subcontinent (particularly in India) in the 4th innings, or even the 3rd innings, is a dicey prospect. The deteriorating nature of the pitch, the scoreboard pressure and the fact that you may not get another chance to influence the outcome of the Test is an enormous burden that weighs even on batsmen with a sound technique and temperament.

 

From 1st January 2000 till date, when they were defending a target in the 4th innings at home, India have won 16 Tests against all oppositions. Their margins of victory range from 337 runs to 13 runs. Their victory by 13 runs was against Australia in Mumbai in December 2004. That wicket was a rank turner and one on which India’s spinners ran riot in the 4th innings defending a target of just 107.

Two seasons ago, they steamrolled South Africa on turning pitches. A closer look reveals that they have drawn eight Tests at home when they set their opposition a target in the 4th innings at home. However, in only one of the eight Tests could they be accused of not winning from a good position. Against New Zealand in October 2003, they set the Kiwis a target of 370 and failed to bowl them out in 107 overs.

Let us extend the analysis to 3rd innings where India have taken a big lead and had their opponents on the mat on the last day. Since 1st January 2000, they have drawn 14 Tests when the opposition batted in the 3rd innings. In 3 of those, India were in an extremely strong position after both teams had played their 1st innings.

Against Zimbabwe at Nagpur they took a lead of 227 after the first innings and failed to bowl out Zimbabwe, who batted for 161 overs in the 3rd innings. Against Pakistan in 2005, they took a lead of 204 after both teams had played their first innings and had Pakistan on the mat at 257/6 at the end of the 4th day. Pakistan were ahead by just 53 runs at the commencement of Day 5 and yet India couldn’t force a win.

Earlier this year, in the 3rd Test at Ranchi, they had the Aussies in trouble and took a lead of 152 after the 1st innings. Australia were tottering at 23/2 at stumps on the 4th day but India couldn’t land the knockout punch on Day 5.

Can we read something into this, or is it just the rub of the green not going their way?

Away from home, they set Australia a target of 443 in the 4th Test at Sydney and couldn’t bowl out the Aussies on the last day. In Johannesburg in December 2013, they set South Africa a target of 458 and almost lost the Test. These were two golden opportunities to win away from home and register their first ever Test series wins in Australia and South Africa.

Until Sourav Ganguly took over the Indian captaincy in 2000, India were a poor side and struggled to win convincingly even at home. However, since then, under the captaincy of Ganguly, Kumble, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli they have won a number of Test series, even away from home.

In the 3rd Test against Sri Lanka, India needed to take just 7 wickets against the Lankans on the last day and failed to do so, due to a combination of dropped catches, wickets off no balls and the bowlers not creating enough wicket taking opportunities. They seemed to take it for granted that the Lankans would capitulate. India just didn’t have enough intensity on the field.

The wicket at Kotla did not break up as expected and there wasn’t appreciable turn for the spinners even on Day 5. To be considered a truly great team, India have to win in all conditions and need their bowlers to create opportunities even when the dice are loaded against them.

While they have been highly successful at home over the last 18 years, they have also squandered a few opportunities.

A worrying sign, just before India depart for South Africa, is their slip catching. Add to that a contagious habit of taking wickets off no balls, a lack of killer instinct and failure to take the half chances and create more opportunities on the last Day 5.

They are not going to get rank turners in South Africa and they need most things to go their way if they are to achieve their first ever win on South African soil. If they set a target for the Proteas in the 4th innings, they need to bring their ‘A’ game and win. Only then can this Indian team be called world beaters.

 

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