Sport tests characters. Sometimes, it throws challenges that seem unsurmountable. The Indian cricket team finds itself in such a situation right now. Battered by Australia in the first Test literally and mentally, it has the onerous task of saving face in the remaining three encounters.
Even drawing the series without captain-cum-main batsman Virat Kohli—on paternity leave—and injured fast bowler Mohammed Shami will enhance by several notches the reputation of this team. But if the embarrassment continues, it will once again make a mockery of coach Ravi Shastri’s claim that this is the best Indian team in the last 10-15 years.
Number 1 in ICC Test rankings, India’s performance in testing conditions overseas has been poor in the period when it has topped the chart. Although the Kohli-Shastri combine recorded India’s only series win in Australia two years ago, the pair lost in places that matter on every other occasion—England (2018), South Africa (2017-18), New Zealand (2020) and Australia (2014-15).
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is by far the richest of all the boards, cricket is not the most popular sport in any of the countries mentioned and India has way more players to choose from than them. Despite these key factors, India is not the best Test team in the real sense of the word and it has not won any global limited-overs title after 2013. The BCCI has become multiple times richer in this period.
If they fail to put up a fight in the remaining Tests, it will show that the Indian players prefer to be tigers at home who lose teeth in unfamiliar conditions. It is time to prove they are not merely the richest cricketers in the world, but also capable ones who perform when the going gets tough.
The coach has to help the players come out of the trauma of getting bowled out for 36. And it is in times like these that Shastri’s role becomes important. At the end of the series, we shall get an idea of where this team stands vis-a-vis his tall claims.