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The effort India still needs to make

India have proved conclusively that they are capable of competing overseas by pushing Australia to the limit in an enthralling Test series. Where do they need to improve to become a consistent power in Test cricket?

india Updated: Jan 11, 2004 00:29 IST

India have proved conclusively that they are capable of competing overseas by pushing Australia to the limit in an enthralling Test series. Where do they need to improve to become a consistent power in Test cricket?

India could quickly lift their standard by ten percent if they improved their ground fielding, close catching and running between wickets. This is not a demanding exercise as the hardest skills to lift at international level are batting and bowling and in these areas India are already well advanced.

The batting order is a wonderful mix of solid, technically correct players and exciting stroke makers. Rahul Dravid has proved he's a champion and his remarkable performance in Australia has only added to his lustre. Aakash Chopra is a solid addition to a formidable line-up, because he rarely gets out early; the next best thing in an opener to one who makes big scores. Chopra is an ideal foil for his audacious partner Virender Sehwag and they are also a lesson to their fellow batsmen in what can be achieved by aggressive running between wickets.

Sehwag is a diamond; sometimes he's uncut and rough but other times he's extremely valuable in the way he unsettles the opposition fast bowlers from the outset. India can afford the luxury of Sehwag's extravagance with their formidable middle order and they should enjoy the days he destroys bowlers and just take a deep breath and count to ten when he self-destructs.

On the occasions he succeeds, India have the capability to emulate Australia in putting pressure on the opposition by scoring quickly. The lower order is fragile and an all-rounder should be high on the priority list as this would also allow India to play five bowlers. There is no one who appeals immediately in this category in the current line-up, as Ajit Agarkar doesn't have the defence but Irfan Pathan has the potential batting skills to fulfill the role down the track.

The Indian catching in the series was acceptable with Sehwag performing brilliantly on occasions but the ground fielding varied from ponderous to downright sloppy. This needs to be addressed as does the infielders' situation awareness; too often Australian batsmen were allowed easy singles when they were looking for a landmark score like a fifty or a century.

India used to be the world champions when it came to close-in fielders with Eknath Solkar leading the way and enhancing an already brilliant spin trio but that is no longer the case. Dravid excelled at slip but none of the other close-in catchers lived up to India's once high standards. With Kumble's resurgence and the pending return of Harbhajan Singh an improvement in this skill will return India to spin prominence.

The other facet of India's play that needs addressing is wicket-keeping. An improvement here would further enhance an emerging attack and while Parthiv Patel did a good job standing back he can't afford to keep missing stumpings.

Australia's former top-class keeper Ian Healy thinks the eighteen-year old has a good foundation and is well ahead of where Healy was at the same age. However, it did appear that he was committing the wicket-keeper's cardinal sin of not ignoring the bat when the spinners are operating. Whatever the problem he needs help addressing it, otherwise one weakness could ruin a promising career, because he has a lot of skill as a batsman.

When India arrived in Australia the team wondered they could compete at the top level -- now they know they're good enough. This is a crucial difference and it should only add to the confidence of a side that has the skill to entertain as well as win. With a bit more effort and thought the players can elevate themselves to the next level and that would make them a hard team to beat. That extra ten to fifteen percent will take them from being a good side to an exceptional team.

First Published: Jan 11, 2004 00:29 IST