Frequent failures in fourth innings take sheen off India’s World No. 1 status
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Frequent failures in fourth innings take sheen off India’s World No. 1 status

In the last five years of playing away from home, India have won 10 Tests, lost 13 and drawn eight. Eight of those 13 losses came in Tests where India were set a fourth-innings target.

cricket Updated: Sep 06, 2018 10:34 IST
Somshuvra Laha
Somshuvra Laha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
India vs England,Virat Kohli,Indian cricket team
England's Moeen Ali (C) celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of India's Ajinkya Rahane.(AFP)

It is ironic that India have now lost two marquee away series on pitches they yearn for at home. On a dry Centurion pitch with burnt grass, India’s series-levelling hopes against South Africa went up in smoke after debutant fast bowler Lungi Ngidi brought the house down with a fiery 6/39. Cut to Southampton in August, off-spinner Moeen Ali plucked Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane on an abrasive pitch to draw curtains on India’s chase and dreams.

India had lost the toss at both Centurion and Southampton. Both times, India were set targets below 300 — 245 in Southampton and 287 in Centurion. Ngidi came to his own in the second innings but the clarity with which England picked Ali for the first time in this series specifically because of his past exploits against India at the same venue in 2014 shows how hopelessly predictable the No 1 Test team’s batting can be. Point is, spin or pace, India’s glorified batsmen — barring Virat Kohli of course — just don’t have the spine to cope up with fourth innings chases. And there are damning numbers to prove that too.

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In the last five years of playing away from home, India have won 10 Tests, lost 13 and drawn eight. Eight of those 13 losses came in Tests where India were set a fourth-innings target. Out of those eight Tests, India lost the toss in seven. Six out of those seven Tests were played outside the Asia, proving once again India’s lack of fight in fourth innings chases outside the subcontinent.

BATTING FIRST MATTERS

All 10 victories during this period came in Tests where India batted first. Take out the seven victories chalked out in West Indies and Sri Lanka — not the same side after the retirements of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Muttiah Muralitharan — and India’s top status suddenly looks nothing more than a mirage with just three commendable victories --- Lord’s (2014), Johannesburg (2018) and Nottingham (2018) --- to boast of in the last five years.

Individual statistics too paint a rather poor picture. In the fourth innings, Shikhar Dhawan averages 26.33, KL Rahul 14.28, the now-discarded Murali Vijay 23.31, Cheteshwar Pujara 31, Ajinkya Rahane 33.66 and Hardik Pandya — India’s latest attempt at finding a genuine all-rounder — an appalling 9.5. Needless to say, all six have fared worst in the fourth innings. The only beacon of hope remains Kohli whose fourth innings average is 54.93, the second highest among his returns for all four innings.

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To put into perspective Kohli’s maturity, his fourth innings average now stands fourth among all Test batsmen to have played at least 20 matches. Among Indians, only Sunil Gavaskar has a better fourth innings average (58.25) but Kohli is already ahead of greats like Younis Khan (50.51), Ricky Ponting (50.41) and Viv Richards (47.94), not to forget his idol Sachin Tendulkar who averages 36.93 in fourth innings.

Kohli, alone, however can’t mask India’s ineptness when it comes to fourth-innings chases, either home or away. Among all the nations in the last two years, not only does India have the worst average per wicket in the fourth innings but they also are the only team to have not crossed 200 while chasing. That’s saying something for a team currently ranked No 1.

First Published: Sep 06, 2018 10:33 IST