'Agree with Rahul Dravid; this indeed is India's best chance of winning in England': Dilip Vengsarkar ahead of 1st Test
- Many have agreed with Dravid's assertion of India being the favourites against England, including Sunil Gavaskar, Monty Panesar, Brad Hogg and even Michael Vaughan. And the latest to join the bandwagon is former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar.
It has been 14 years since India won a Test series in England. The last time it happened was in 2007, when under Rahul Dravid, India drew a thrilling game at Lord's and later pulled off a seven-wicket win in Nottingham followed by another draw at The Oval. Since then, India have endured a barren run when it comes to playing Test matches in England. They were drubbed 0-4 in 2011 and lost a 1-0 advantage to be thrashed 1-3 in 2014. Four years later, in 2018, the score-line only worsened.
Hence, when Dravid, the last Indian winning skipper in England, said that this is India's best chance of winning a Test match on English soil, it created a stir. And rightly so. England have concerns of their own, with a fragile top order and absence of star pacers in Jofra Archer and Chris Woakes. Besides, Ben Stokes pulling out days before the start of the series promises to serve as a body blow for the hosts, who only have skipper Joe Root and wicketkeeper batsman Jos Buttler as their two most experienced batsmen in the squad. When you look at things in hindsight, it was almost as if Dravid was quoting the universe.
Many have agreed with Dravid, including Sunil Gavaskar, Monty Panesar, Brad Hogg and even Michael Vaughan. And the latest to join the bandwagon is former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar, the architect of India's 2-0 in a three-Test series in 1986, with 360 runs – including two centuries.
"I agree with [Rahul] Dravid. India has a very good chance because this is the first-time, we are travelling to England with such world-class bowlers. Guys like Shami, Bumrah, Siraj and Ishant are top class. I think this indeed is India's best chance," he told Hindustan Times.
While the bowling looks formidable, batting is one area where India need to click to succeed in England. Over the last three tours, Indian batsmen – barring Dravid in 2011 and Kohli in 2018 – have struggled against the moving Dukes ball and the inability to put runs on the board has proved detrimental to the team's chances. In 2018, Kohli led from the front, piling on nearly 600 runs, and this time round, the heat is once again on the India captain, not only for his batting but his captaincy. After India's back-to-back triumphs in Australia, a win in England would help grow his legacy and there couldn't be a better way than to begin the second edition of the World Test Championship.
It's easier said than done though. Kohli has been century-less in international cricket for 21 months, while the other senior batsman Rohit Sharma has played only two Test matches in England. Cheteshwar Pujara has scored a hundred there but he faces his own trial due to the hoopla surrounding his strike-rate, and Ajinkya Rahane is looking to re-discover the run that once saw him score centuries in SENA nations. Vengsarkar, the only overseas player to have scored three Test centuries at Lord's, believes Indian batsmen can bury the ghost of their past but warned them against being too reliant on Kohli and Rohit.
"I'm sure he will be able to break his century drought, because at the end of the day, he is a fabulous player. He and Rohit are probably the best India has got and I hope they come into their own and score a lot of runs. But at the same time, I would like others also to chip in, that's important, because we can't only depend on just two batsmen. Others need to contribute as well," he added.
Weighing further on India's batting, Vengsarkar defended Pujara for all the noise surrounding him. From the current squad, Pujara, India's No. 3, is the second highest run-getter in Tests after captain Kohli, and Vengsarkar has backed the batsman's style of play, highlighting how the same technique brought him success to begin with.
"That has been his approach throughout. That's the way he plays and scores runs. That's how did in Australia; scored three centuries last time around and earlier this year too he was very crucial to India's chances," he pointed out.
Pujara isn't the only India batsman whose style has been criticised. Like Pujara, Rishabh Pant too has been under scrutiny for his shot selection – especially in the second innings of the World Test Championship final, where he perished trying to go after the bowling. Sure, when it came off like it did against Australia and later at home against England, it was all hunky dory. But when it didn't, out came the daggers. While there were few who came to Pant's aid, most were questioning his approach in the WTC final. Vengsarkar belongs to the former.
"He is a young player, and the fact that we did not play any games before the World Test Championship. You take time to acclimatise to the conditions. Not only Rishabh Pant, but any cricketer for that matter. I can't blame anybody to be honest. The only thing is that the BCCI should have organised these games for them," the former BCCI chief selector said.
Vengsarkar chipped in on India's split captaincy debate, insisting the practice is bound to create confusion and make things complex. With Kohli not yet winning an ICC Trophy, but emerging as the country's most successful Test captain with 33 wins, several former India cricketers have recommended the idea of separate captains for different formats. Given Rohit's fabulous record as captain of the Mumbai Indians in the IPL and of the Indian team – he has led India to 15 wins from 19 T20Is with a win percentage of 78.94 – could he be a candidate to lead India in limited-overs?
"See, frankly if someone is leading in Test cricket, he should be the captain in all formats. If you're going to play under someone in one format, and under somebody else in another, it makes no sense to me. If someone, and in this case, Kohli, is good enough, he should remain captain in all three formats," said Vengsarkar.
"Every captain is as good as his team. So, you just can't blame the captain if a team loses. See the impact of the person; how much of a positive effect he has had on this team. I think Virat Kohli has done a good job and I wish him all the best for the England series."