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How can India rekindle memories of 2002 and 2007?
Looking back into the past can be troublesome if you are trying to solve the demons of the modern day. Sport evolves so quickly and demands every athlete to redefine themselves every few months, if not weeks to stay at the top of their game. Therefore, with India’s abysmal record in England in the longest form of the game, there can be no doubt that India will need to adapt to the English conditions far better than they have in the past. Innovative tinkering with their batting, new tricks in the armour of their bowling and the vigour in the field is the call of the day. But, there are similarities between the current test squad and the squads that toured this country in 2002 and 2007, which were the last successful trips to these shores. If India are able to rekindle those similarities in the upcoming five test match series, they will maximise their chances of retaining the Pataudi trophy, which they convincingly regained 18 months ago in India. So what will it take for Virat Kohli’s boys to have the most special month of their careers?
When we look back at the victorious tour of 2007, a huge reason as to why Rahul Dravid was able to lead with conviction was because the top order delivered in all three matches. Dinesh Karthik will hope he can use his experience of opening the batting to good effect this time. He was the third highest run scorer 11 years ago, where 263 runs was able to support the classical Wasim Jaffer to give India a solid start. In the two subsequent series, there have been far too many cases where the Indians have ended up in a horrible position. 37-4 in the second innings of the Nottingham test in 2011 and 56-4 in the second innings of the Birmingham test in the same series were just some of the embarrassing moments in the whitewash series, which crowned England as the best test side in the world. Three years later, everyone remembers the shocking 8-4 India were in at Manchester and the aberration of 94 all out at the Oval. These capitulations were not evident in 2007 and in 2002, which was a hardly fought series drawn 1-1. Of course, people will point to the much heralded batting order India had at that time. However, they had many quality batsman in the 1990s, when they hardly competed competently in England. Much of the team’s expectations will be placed on the three musketeers in the middle order in Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane. Even though Rahane has happy memories of these shores four years ago with his stunning century at Lord’s, all three of these players did not live up to their potential. Along with Murali Vijay and in all likelihood, Shikhar Dhawan, these five batsmen need to battle against batting collapses. All of these players have become better players in the years since 2014, so they should improve. The question is though, by how much will they improve?
Despite the batting being the obvious concern for India over the past seven years in India, there can be no doubt that to win test matches, bowling form is the most vital. Time and again, fast bowlers and spin masters from India have struggled to perform with the Duke ball. Only Bhuvneshwar Kumar performed with any potency with his man-of-the-series award four years ago. But, the likes of Mohammed Shami and Ravichandran Ashwin were not able to translate the expectations on them to concrete consistency in the middle. Furthermore, with Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah likely to miss the first test at least, much of the workload will be placed on Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav. Sharma will need to get inspired by Zaheer Khan’s heroics in 2007, where he was the leading wicket-taker among both sides. However, there was an interesting observation that could be replicated this year. The legend that is Anil Kumble, just as he did everywhere he went, was extremely successful in England. He was consistently among the leading wicket-takers in every series he played on these shores and all eyes will be on a young magician this year. Kuldeep Yadav spun a web on the English batsmen in the limited-overs format earlier this summer, and the English will be eagerly preparing to take on the left-arm leg spinner. The legendary Shane Warne said something last year which Kuldeep will do very well to listen to. “This is the thing; all batsmen do not want to be deceived by the variation. They always look at the ball being delivered and think ‘Oh is that it?’. So they are expecting a variation, but just make them wait. There is no need to bowling the wrong-un every second ball, just keep bowling your leg-break. Then, they will lose patience and you will then be in business.” So, Trevor Bayliss may set up the Merlin bowling machine to replicate Kuldeep’s back of the hand ball, but he may not actually bowl it and be equally successful.
The biggest test series under Kohli’s leadership begins in just a few weeks time and preparation is well underway. The India A side have just been thrashed by the England Lions, so the signs are looking ominous. But as Rahane and Rishabh Pant have shown in the match, being successful in England is possible for Indians and the rest of the squad will need to be at their very best if they are going to rekindle the magic of 2007.