India Face Uphill Task in Defending World Cup Crown in 2015

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India Face Uphill Task in Defending World Cup Crown in 2015
Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

In the period between the culmination of the home series against West Indies in November and the start of the South African tour in the second half of December, the Indian media had talked up the post-Sachin Tendulkar era of their cricket team.

Led by the suave and greying Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who was supervising a bunch of brash, exciting and talented cricketers—the likes of Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja—the team was seemingly headed in the right direction.

The mission: defend their World Cup title Down Under in the southern hemisphere summer of 2014-15.

However, three back-to-back series losses across different formats against South Africa and New Zealand—two teams at the opposite ends of the Test and ODI rankings—have brought the world champions crashing down.

What came as an even more rude shock to fans of Team India, the superstars of world cricket failed to win a single match in those series, comprising two Tests and eight one-dayers.

And what made the results even more symbolic was that they were against teams that are part of the seven new "minnows" of world cricket, following the proposed restructuring of the International Cricket Council (ICC), wherein the reins of the sport would be handed over to the big three—India, Australia and England—and the others would be reduced to a participatory role, as noted on ESPNcricinfo.

South Africa and New Zealand had comprehensively beaten a team that could possibly be protected from relegation in the new Test order. Oh, the glee.

What is left for India to salvage is a two-match Test series against a buoyed Kiwi outfit, starting in Auckland on February 6. 

If India fail to win a game even there, it would be a slap on the face of their administrators, who have gained the reputation of being the big bully of world cricket. Rest assured, the knives are being sharpened as we speak.

India know where their problems lie. Even the usually cool Dhoni couldn't help but plead his bowlers to "use their brains" after India recently lost the one-day series against New Zealand 4-0.

After spending their formative years bowling on dust bowls in India, the Indian bowlers seem clueless about operating in foreign conditions, which ironically offer more help to the bowlers.

A look at their statistics in overseas Tests after the 2011 World Cup offers a clear picture:

Player

Matches

Wickets

Average

Ishant Sharma

13

43

41.27

Zaheer Khan

9

24

33.95

Ravichandran Ashwin

4

9

74.77

Umesh Yadav

4

14

39.35

Mohammed Shami

2

6

43.83

Bhuvneshwar Kumar

0

NA

NA

Ishwar Pandey

0

NA

NA

*The list only includes players who are currently part of the Indian touring party in New Zealand.

Note that Ishant Sharma's tally of 43 wickets was boosted by a stellar series in the Caribbean in 2011, where he picked up 22 wickets in three matches.

The most alarming column is the average, where no bowler has managed to record less than 30. It wouldn't be prudent to expect a major turnaround in their fortunes in two matches.

But one thing is for certain: India will have to find a solution in the next 12 months if they want to stand any chance of defending their crown in the World Cup.

As for the batting, it appears to revolve around the fortunes of two players in Tests: Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli.

The duo looked promising in South Africa and were the only settled batsmen in the line-up, capable of dealing with the speed and bounce of the South African pace battery.

With Pujara being overlooked for the one-dayers in New Zealand, the Indian batting looked nowhere close to their world renowned form, especially when exposed to short-pitched bowling. The times of having Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar and V.V.S. Laxman in the middle-order seem a distant memory now.

New Zealand coach Mike Hesson has promised more of the same in the Test matches.

Players like Shikhar Dhawan, who is soon gaining the tag of one-Test wonder, Rohit Sharma, who has failed to reciprocate his stellar home form abroad, and Murali Vijay, who appears to be in the team only because India have no other opening option, will have to pull their weight.

The current crop of Indian batsmen have been known to have an attacking flair ingrained in them. While that strategy would help them in limited overs games, perhaps it is time to go back to the drawing board for the Tests.

Here are the numbers for the Indian batsmen overseas after the World Cup:

Player

Matches

Runs

Average

M.S. Dhoni

12

506

24.09

Virat Kohli

9

648

38.11

Murali Vijay

5

220

21.1

Ravichandran Ashwin

4

181

30.16

Cheteshwar Pujara

2

280

70

Ajinkya Rahane

2

209

69.66

Shikhar Dhawan

2

76

19

Rohit Sharma

2

45

11.25

Ravindra Jadeja

1

8

8

Ambati Rayudu

0

NA

NA

*The list only includes players who are currently part of the Indian touring party in New Zealand.

After a rather disastrous 18 months following their World Cup win, India's so-called second coming was supposed to have begun with the 4-0 drubbing of Australia at home last spring.

The Champions Trophy win in the summer accelerated it, while overseas victories in the Caribbean and Zimbabwe all but dispelled any doubts. But now, almost 12 months later, it looks more like an aberration—and it couldn't have come at a worse time.

Two massive away series against England and Australia await the men in blue prior to the next World Cup.

The tours of South Africa and, especially, New Zealand should have been the ideal preparation for a long summer in England and a blockbuster tour Down Under. Instead, so far, it has only cemented the Asian giant's ineptitude in alien conditions.

India have not won an away Test since June 2011, when they beat the West Indies at Sabina Park. They have now gone 12 consecutive away Tests without notching a win—their worst run since the period between 1993 and 2001, when they failed to win a match in 22 away Tests.

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However, they could take some confidence from the fact that New Zealand have also only beaten the West Indies and Zimbabwe—both fellow bottom-half teams—at home over the same period.

Confidence and complacency are divided by a thin line, as Dhoni's men would well know.

 

All statistics have been sourced from ESPNcricinfo

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