Away blues continue to paint a bleak image for Team India after England registered a thumping win at Old Trafford on Saturday. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his boys were outplayed in every aspect of the game, with the fourth Test finishing within three days. With back-to-back victories in Southampton and Manchester, England have taken an unassailable 2-1 lead in the five-match series.
As expected, relentless criticism has started to pour in from all corners. It`s a different matter that the Indian team has always known to be a bad travelling side, especially outside the sub-continent, but with India`s rise as a cricketing power-house, results should come at home and abroad. At least to justify the international clout its cricket board is carrying.
Despite registering that historic win at Lord`s, India allowed England to claw back in the series at Southampton. In the third Test at The Rose Bowl, England first scored a mammoth 569 runs in the first innings and followed it up with inspired bowling performances. The 266-run defeat in Southampton was one of the many signs of things to come. Then, India allowed the script to continue in similar vein in Manchester.
The humiliating innings and 54-run defeat to Alastair Cook`s team in the fourth Test was the latest chapter in this rather predictable script of Indian cricket, that of surrendering meekly while playing abroad. In the last 18 Tests on foreign soil, starting with the Caribbean tour of 2011, India have won just two matches – against West Indies and England.
It seems there is no easy fix to this troubling trend. Because, in all these losses, the lack of alacrity was evident. How bad has been their form, can be ascertained from the fact that Indian batsmen are finding it difficult to combat a part-time spinner like Moeen Ali, who ripped through their batting line-up in the fourth Test.
Despite the prominence of Moeen Ali factor, India`s sorry performance so far has to do with lot many other things, which all helped reaffirm the fact that the current World Champions in limited overs aren`t comfortable playings Tests overseas. In the last 19 away Test matches, India under Dhoni`s captaincy, have lost 12 and drawn five.
Considering the popularity and acceptance Dhoni enjoys in India, this statistics is alarming. In 27 away Tests under his captaincy, India have emerged victorious only six times. The overall Test wins under his leadership is still respectable, thanks to a superlative home performance, but he needs to improve the away record to help India become truly a cricketing force. There is no way he cannot improve the away form as he has won an astonishing 21 from 30 Tests at home.
Cricket may have seen drastic evolution to accommodate today`s marketing dynamics in the form of countless T20 and occasional 50-50 tournaments, but for the purists, five-day format is still the soul of the game. If India fails to perform respectably in this format, its claim to being one of the formidable cricketing nations will soon fade. For a country where cricketers are revered and worshipped like Gods, failing in this format is a rude treatment to the millions of passionate fans.
And Dhoni, being the poster boy of Indian cricket, will need to give a serious thought on this aspect. He did help India win both the World Cups in limited overs format, but every time an overseas tour comes up, question on the quality of Indian cricket and his captaincy skills shoot up, as if it`s a recurring theme.
On the personal front, Dhoni is on the verge of equalling the unwanted record of most number of away Test defeats as a skipper. He has lost 13 Tests abroad, three less than Stephen Fleming and Brian Lara. After losing the first Test of the 2014 New Zealand tour in Wellington by 40 runs, he had already surpassed Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Mohammed Azharuddin and Sourav Ganguly as the India skipper with worst away records. These ex-captains had 10 defeats each under their name.
With just one Test remaining, Dhoni and his boys have a lot to ponder upon. India`s stay in England this time around hasn`t been as painful compared to their 2012 tour, but another loss in the fifth Test could possibly wash away the memories of the historic win at Lord`s.