After a disappointing tour of New Zealand, M.S. Dhoni's captaincy is unsurprisingly under the microscope. With India in total control of the second Test after the third day's play, a series-leveling victory seemed a certainty, with only the date and time left to be decided.
Brendon McCullum, B.J. Watling, and Jimmy Neesham had very different plans.
McCullum, tempering his naturally aggressive style, became New Zealand's first triple centurion (302) in Tests, overtaking the legendary Martin Crowe's highest score of 299. He found a great ally in Watling, who batted doggedly for 510 minutes and faced 367 deliveries for his 124.
When Watling was finally dismissed, the debutant Neesham joined the party and proceeded to hammer a toothless attack that had long run out of steam. The baby-faced 23-year-old punished the Indians as he raced to his maiden Test century. When New Zealand finally declared, Neesham was left not out on 137 from just 154 deliveries, laced with 20 fours.
While conditions in New Zealand always pose great difficulty for touring teams, the Indians would've been favored to win what was expected to be a keenly contested series.
In their last two tours (South Africa and New Zealand), the Indian batting lineup has shown its class and dismissed any doubts regarding its ability to play fast bowling in pace-friendly conditions.
However, it is India's bowling attack that has more often than not been found wanting. Ishant Sharma has discovered his rhythm once again, Mohammed Shami bowls consistently well but at times without luck, and Zaheer Khan has blown a bit hot and cold, failing to provide reliability to the pace attack.
In the first Test against South Africa, and the second Test against New Zealand, India put itself in a commanding position to record unlikely victories away from home. With only a few more wickets needed to nail the coffin shut, the Indian fast bowlers ran out of gas on both occasions.
With no genuine fast-bowling all-rounder on the horizon, the Indian team selection has been a little perplexing and far too defensive-minded.
Dhoni's tactics when things aren't going according to plan have raised a few eyebrows, but when your bowlers can't close the deal after doing all the hard work and your fielders are grassing easy catches, there isn't a whole lot the captain can do.
Dhoni, along with management, will have to take a bold step forward if they want to start winning away from home. Dropping the inconsistent Rohit Sharma and replacing him with Ravichandran Ashwin will add another quality bowler to the team.
Ashwin's batting seems to improve each time he's at the crease, and he's good enough to be considered a genuine all-rounder with a Test batting average of just under 40. Ajinkya Rahane should be promoted to the No. 5 position, with Dhoni batting at six and Ashwin to follow.
What Ashwin, in tandem with Ravindra Jadeja, will do is ease the burden on the fast bowlers and allow them lengthy periods of rest, thus keeping the pacers fresh when they're re-introduced to the attack.
While Ashwin's bowling outside of India has been relatively innocuous, he is still a young man and has shown that he's a crafty and skillful customer. Even outside of the subcontinent, there aren't too many batsmen that would be willing to take risks against Ashwin.
Historically, India has always been at its best when it's had two front-line spinners in the team.
Once again, Virat Kohli was India's best batsman on the tour to New Zealand, as was the case in South Africa. He was given good support by opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan, and the emerging, classy Rahane.
Rahane is a deceptive little customer. Because of his size, many commentators think he's only capable of nudging the ball around, but the diminutive 25-year-old is a shotgun more than willing to challenge all bowlers and pepper ever boundary.
Rahane and Kohli may provide Indian fans with years of thrills and epic match-winning/saving partnerships. Both are equally stylish and elegant, but Kohli's face tells the picture of a street fighter willing to engage his every combatant, while Rahane exhibits a calm, cool and serene disposition. Together, they present the perfect contrast, yet with similar ambitions.
With Dhoni's lack of success outside of India, many pundits and former cricketers are calling for Kohli to take over the reigns. Rarely has a great batsman equated to a great captain. Kohli is slowly starting to mature, but his youthful exuberance and flamboyance isn't what is required at this time.
Kohli has to deal with the daily pressures of being India's best batsman in all three formats of the game (Tests, ODIs, Twenty20). To say his star is on the rise would be an understatement. In fact, at times his batting looks as though it belongs to another universe, one far more advanced than anything we can comprehend.
At just 25 years of age, there's already too much on Kohli's plate. He's handled it well, he can be brash and arrogant, but it's done nothing to hinder his performance. If anything, it's been a boon.
India would be prudent to persist with Dhoni, a man who has been greatly responsible for some of India's greatest cricketing triumphs.
Kohli could one day become a fine leader, but it's unnecessary to make that change right now. Let him learn and absorb as much as he can over the next few years, let him be the best batsman he possibly can. He knows his time will come.