How to beat Virat Kohli-led Team India in India?

Forget winning a series, such has been the domination of this Indian side that visiting teams have managed to win just two Test matches out of the 32 played in India and five others ended in a draw, under the captaincy of Kohli.
Indian cricket team(AP)
Indian cricket team(AP)
Updated on Nov 24, 2021 06:57 PM IST
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ByAratrick Mondal

Test cricket has witnessed a shift in power through three different eras. There were the mighty West Indies of the 80s, under the captaincy of Clive Lloyd and then Viv Richards. Then came the invincible Australian army, around the turn of the century, built under the leadership of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. The baton has now been passed on to Virat Kohli's Team India. Through these eras, there has been one common statement made by coaches and captains of other Test-playing countries around the world - their dream to beat them in their own backyard.

For this present Indian side, Australia head coach Justin Langer has always admitted that his ultimate dream has been beating India in India since their Ashes win in England in 2019. Joe Root, the English captain was confident that his side had the ingredients to stunning world cricket when they toured earlier this year but were left disappointed again with a 1-3 defeat. It's time for New Zealand now, the World Test Champions, who beat India in Southampton last June to claim the inaugural trophy.

“It is one of world cricket’s greatest challenges, going to India and winning Test matches. We’re certainly under no illusions as to how tough that will be," Blackcaps head coach Gary Stead had told reporters earlier this month.

Forget series, such has been the domination of this Indian side that visiting teams have managed to win just two Test matches out of the 32 played in India and five others ended in a draw, under the captaincy of Kohli. 10 out of those defeats have been by an innings margin, six others have been by 200 runs or more and four by 8 or more wickets - so it's not just defeat, it's a decimation of visiting sides at the utmost level.

So, what does it truly take to beat India, in India, in a Test match?

Is TOSS a factor?

Not entirely. Out of the 32 games, the coin favoured India 17 times with the team never losing a match. 15 Tests ended in victories while two others were drawn Tests. The 15 times India did lose the toss, the team still managed to win 10 Tests but lost two and three ended in a draw. Hence, not entirely though, but winning the toss might provide visitors with some hope.

But the key of course is batting first. All 15 times India won the Test after winning the toss, the hosts had opted to bat first. Only once did India opt to bowl first, against South Africa in 2015 in Bengaluru, but the game was drawn due to rain. India had batted second in both the Tests they lost and drew twice.

But batting first comes with a condition...

In the four notable matches in India by visiting teams - two wins and as many draws - teams have managed to keep their top-order intact (lost three or fewer wickets) by the 40th over, when the SG red starts getting old. Barring Australia, on that Pune rank-turner in 2017, in all other times have team managed to score big in the first innings of the Test

The first-innings target for visiting teams should be 450 or more. Only once has India lost after bowlers conceded more than 450 in the first innings - against England in Chennai in 2016, and only once did a visiting team win after setting a target of less than 300 - Australia in Pune in 2017.

Team Year40th overNew Ball2nd New BallTotal4th innings targetResult
Australia2017105/1211/9Nil260420Won
England202186-2242-2567/8578441Won
England2016125/3278/3Nil537310Drawn
Australia2017132/3303/4Nil451NilDrawn

Teams also need to set a target of at least 150 runs for the final innings, when batting first. England, in the 2021 Chennai Test, had set a target of 441 and Australia in Pune Test in 2017 had set a target of 420 - both of which India lost. The only other 150-plus target set for India was by England in Rajkot in 2016, of 310 runs, which had ended in a draw. Overall, irrespective of conditions, Under Kohli, India have never successfully chased 150 or more in the 4th innings - 12 innings, nine defeats, and two draws.

Surviving India's new-ball specialist

If it is James Anderson and Stuart Broad in England, it is Ravichandran Ashwin in India. Under Kohli's captaincy, Ashwin has picked 29 wickets with the new ball in 48 home Test innings, at 21.62 and strike rate of 48.48, which is the most among all Indian bowlers.

So, visiting teams need a perfect opening combination to tackle the right-arm off-break variety. Since Kohli's Test captaincy, only four non-Asian batters (at least 50 deliveries) have averaged more than 45 against the variety in the first 15 overs of the game in Asian conditions - two are from the Fab Four while the other two are presently not part of the first XIs of their countries.

Top-five batting averages against right-arm off-break in Asia in the first 15 overs

PlayerInningsRunsBalls FacedOutsAvgSR
Steve Smith128212918263.57
Keaton Jennings65610315654.37
Kane Williamson5516215182.26
Matt Renshaw84512914534.88
Joe Root14789823979.59

Unfortunately for New Zealand, Williamson has been dismissed five times by Ashwin in Tests - four of which were in his previous visit to India in 2016. But in two times Williamson faced Ashwin, both overseas contests, Ashwin failed to dismiss him.

Ashwin is also the highest wicket-taker for India during the phase, with 191 wickets at 20.79. But there is Ravindra Jadeja as well, the second on the list, with 130 wickets at 21.31. Not to forget, if India play three spinners, Axar Patel will be the third, the one who single-handedly beat England earlier this year. He played only three games in that series and picked 27 wickets at just 10.59.

Visitors need a strong spin attack

"The traditional way of playing four seamers and one part-time spinner can't be the way to go over here. You may see three spinners playing in this game and that will be decided once we have a look at the surface," Stead said on Tuesday in the pre-match presser. Earlier, Ross Taylor too had acknowledged that spin will play a key role in the series in India. And they aren't entirely wrong. Since 2015, spinners have averaged 29.70 in India, the second least after Bangladesh (28.79) among all Test-playing nations. And India made the most of the conditions as their unit has an average of only 21.97 with a wicket almost every 50 deliveries. The only non-Asian visiting team closest to the number is Australia's 24.73, from 16 Tests.

Nathan Lyon and Steve O'Keefe picked 38 wickets between themselves in the 2017 tour of India(AP)
Nathan Lyon and Steve O'Keefe picked 38 wickets between themselves in the 2017 tour of India(AP)

Forget series, such has been the domination of this Indian side that visiting teams have managed to win just two Test matches out of the 32 played in India and five others ended in a draw, under the captaincy of Kohli. 10 out of those defeats have been by an innings margin, six others have been by 200 runs or more and four by 8 or more wickets - so it's not just defeat, it's a decimation of visiting sides at the utmost level.

So, what does it truly take to beat India, in India, in a Test match?

Is TOSS a factor?

Not entirely. Out of the 32 games, the coin favoured India 17 times with the team never losing a match. 15 Tests ended in victories while two others were drawn Tests. The 15 times India did lose the toss, the team still managed to win 10 Tests but lost two and three ended in a draw. Hence, not entirely though, but winning the toss might provide visitors with some hope.

But the key of course is batting first. All 15 times India won the Test after winning the toss, the hosts had opted to bat first. Only once did India opt to bowl first, against South Africa in 2015 in Bengaluru, but the game was drawn due to rain. India had batted second in both the Tests they lost and drew twice.

But batting first comes with a condition...

In the four notable matches in India by visiting teams - two wins and as many draws - teams have managed to keep their top-order intact (lost three or fewer wickets) by the 40th over, when the SG red starts getting old. Barring Australia, on that Pune rank-turner in 2017, in all other times have team managed to score big in the first innings of the Test

The first-innings target for visiting teams should be 450 or more. Only once has India lost after bowlers conceded more than 450 in the first innings - against England in Chennai in 2016, and only once did a visiting team win after scoring less than 300 - Australia in Pune in 2017.

 

Teams also need to set a target of at least 150 runs for the final innings, when batting first. England in Chennai in 2021 had set a target of 441 and Australia in Pune in 2017 had set a target of 420 - both of which India lost. The only other 150-plus target set for India was by England in Rajkot in 2016, of 310 runs, which had ended in a draw. Overall, irrespective of conditions, Under Kohli, India have never successfully chased 150 or more in the 4th innings - 12 innings, nine defeats, and two draws.

Surviving India's new-ball specialist

If it is James Anderson and Stuart Broad in England, it is Ravichandran Ashwin in India. Under Kohli's captaincy, Ashwin has picked 29 wickets with the new ball in 48 home Test innings, at 21.62 and strike rate of 48.48, which is the most among all Indian bowlers.

So, visiting teams need a perfect opening combination to tackle the right-arm off-break variety. Since Kohli's Test captaincy, only two non-Asian batters (at least 50 deliveries) have averaged more than 45 against the variety in the first 15 overs of the game in Asian conditions - England's Keaton Jennings and Matt Renshaw from Australia. And none are presently part of the first XIs of their countries. Two active batters closest at New Zealand's Tom Latham and South Africa's Aiden Markram.

Unfortunately for New Zealand, Latham has been dismissed six times by Ashwin in Tests - four times in his previous visit to India in 2016 and twice in the WTC final.

Ashwin is also the highest wicket-taker for India during the phase, with 191 wickets at 20.79. But there is Ravindra Jadeja as well, the second on the list, with 130 wickets at 21.31. Not to forget, if India play three spinners, Axar Patel will be the third, the one who single-handedly beat England earlier this year. He played only three games in that series and picked 27 wickets at just 10.59.

Visitors need a strong spin attack

"The traditional way of playing four seamers and one part-time spinner can't be the way to go over here. You may see three spinners playing in this game and that will be decided once we have a look at the surface," Stead said on Tuesday in the pre-match presser. Earlier, Ross Taylor too had acknowledged that spin will play a key role in the series in India. And they aren't entirely wrong. Since 2015, spinners have averaged 29.70 in India, the second least after Bangladesh (28.79) among all Test-playing nations. And India made the most of the conditions as their unit has an average of only 21.97 with a wicket almost every 50 deliveries. The only non-Asian visiting team closest to the number is Australia's 24.73, from 16 Tests.

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Visiting teams do not just need good spinners, they need a good attack, implying a second good spinner. The Steve Smith-led Aussies had come the closest to stunning India in the 2017 tour, largely because of their spin attack comprising Nathan Lyon (19 wickets at 25.26) and Steve O'Keefe (19 wickets at 23.26).

England, earlier this year, had Jack Leach, who picked 18 wickets at 28.72 and was well supported by Moeen Ali, who picked eight wickets in a game at 28.25. But he returned home after the second Test and his replacement, Dom Bess struggled in the two matches - picking five wickets at 39.40.

Don't forget the pacers

"Fast bowling still remains a main element with the new ball and reverse swing. But spin more often plays a big part over here, so we could be naive if we assume only spin will play a key part. “We still going to have to face a quality seam bowling line-up and reverse swing,” Taylor said in a virtual press conference on Monday.

The most significant part of the Indian squad in Kohli's era is the abundance of pacers, who can not just dominate in overseas conditions, but also pose an equal threat to visitors at home - remember that Pink Ball Test where pacers picked all the 10 wickets and only one over of spin was bowled.

How pacers have performed in Indian conditions under Kohli's captaincy

YearMatchesWicketsAverageSR
2015483196
201683833.6369.9
201785929.2557
201832115.4228.7
201955915.2530.3
202141327.4661.3

Although Umesh Yadav, with 78 strikes, has been India's highest wicket-taker during the phase, Mohammed Shami (51 wickets at 22.05) has been a more potent weapon, with his ability to target the stumps more often than any bowler, especially in the second innings of a Test where he averages 17.64 in picking 24 wickets.

Is it a lot to ask? Probably. But all these not just describe India's sheer home domination in Tests, but also how big a prize it is for all visiting teams.

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Monday, November 29, 2021