India are expected to hit the high notes in the five-match series against England starting on Wednesday, but will have to usher in a new era as their record in prolonged series is ordinary.
Five-match series were the norm until the 1980s. But with One-day Internationals and Twenty20s taking over, national federations and the International Cricket Council are concerned about the future of Tests.
Thus the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) decision to play five Tests will be interestingly watched. India played their first five-Test series for 12 years on the 2014 tour of England. That was part of the BCCI’s plans give battles with England and Australia icon status, like the Ashes series.
Besides a packed home series in the winter, playing five Tests against a major team like England is also expected to provide huge commercial returns.
Five-Test series usually follow a pattern. Visiting teams show early promise, but subside in alien conditions before finding their feet when the series is drawing to a close. It is punctuated by solid performances by the outstanding members of the visiting side, but overall it is advantage hosts.
The series isn’t expected to be any different as India look to avenge three series defeats in a row over five years.
But India’s record in series of five Tests or more is modest, though numbers alone don’t tell the story. It might be hard to believe, but the last time India won a five-Test series was way back in 1981-2, 1-0 at home against England.
Since then they have played eight series of five Tests or more, losing all!
To be fair to India, in the early 1980s, West Indies were simply unplayable, home or away. And barring the losses to England and Pakistan at home, the rest were away.
What these statistics don’t point out is the drama in the two home defeats.
In the 1987 series against Pakistan, the first four matches were boring draws. Following heavy criticism, the final Test was played on a ‘result-oriented’ (read underprepared) pitch.
Only two batsmen scored fifties --- Dilip Vengsarkar’s first innings 50 was followed by Sunil Gavaskar’s epochal 96 in his farewell Test which almost took India to victory.
In a match dominated by spin, left-arm spinner Maninder Singh’s 7/27 helped skittle out Pakistan for 116 in the first innings. He took 10 wickets in the game.
Pakistan fared much better in the second innings, setting a victory target of 221 on a crumbling surface. India were bowled out for 145 in the first innings with spinners Iqbal Qasim (5/48) and Tauseef Ahmed (5/54) doing the damage. In the second innings, the two took four wickets apiece to clinch a 16-run win.
Former India all-rounder Madan Lal says visiting teams can struggle in such long series, but expects England to put up far better fight than New Zealand.
India will host their first five-Test series since 1987, but Lal didn’t agree the long series may not find takers. “Cricket is loved by millions in India and fans will follow the series, especially their team. Of course, it depends on whether we play good cricket, and the quality of wickets.”
He added: “England are professional, and we should not underestimate the pacers or (off-spinner) Moeen Ali. He is a line-and-length bowler and can trouble batsmen.
“India’s batting can be fragile at times as we saw against New Zealand. And winning the toss and batting first here can make a difference. Score 400-500 and the other team is under pressure.”