“Virat will go on to become India’s greatest batsman”
It’s been seven long years since India last recorded a win over England in Test cricket. Back then Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan produced a couple of inspirational individual performances to help their country to a 1-0 series victory.
In the meantime, England have risen and fallen from the summit of the world rankings, inflicting a couple of painful defeats on their rivals including a 4-0 whitewash three years ago and their first series victory in India in 28 years back in 2012.
However, over the past twelve months, England have slipped dramatically from their pedestal, suffering a humiliating whitewash in the Ashes in January and seeing a whole host of key players leave the squad including Jonathan Trott, Graeme Swann and most notably, Kevin Pietersen.
Former captain Kapil Dev is eagerly anticipating the upcoming five match Test series which gets underway on July 9 and he believes that India are the favourites.
“It’s the first time in 40 years that India will come to England and play what you’d call a full series,” he told Uday India. “Normally we always play three or four matches but that’s not the same. The truest test of nerves and also ability is to play a full tour and I’m very happy to see it is finally happening again.”
India have excelled at the shorter forms of the game over the past year, winning the ICC Champions Trophy last June and reaching the final of the World Twenty20 in March but their Test results have been below par with successive defeats to South Africa and New Zealand. However, Dev feels India can take full advantage of the disarray currently running through the England setup.
“From what I saw of the Ashes on television, England just couldn’t get their heads together,” he said. “A couple of players went home and retired in the middle of the series and I thought Australia came out so hard at them and they cracked. Even though they are professionals, Australia just really outplayed them in every department and they just didn’t come back from it once they’d gone into the dumps. India can do the same. We haven’t played well out of the subcontinent so there’s a little bit of doubt in my mind and I won’t be completely confident until they go there and start playing well, but the team’s looking a lot more compact recently. And England are not playing well so I feel India can take things in their stride.”
In particular, India will be boosted by the absence of Kevin Pietersen after the abrupt termination of his international career earlier this year. On India’s last tour, Pietersen top scored with 533 runs, including a double century in the first Test, but without him the England middle order looks quite shaky.
“It was bit of a surprise that they got rid of Pietersen but also somewhere he’s given an opportunity to the management to do what they’ve done,” Dev said. “I think he’s such a great cricketer but now and then he would just always come into controversy. I don’t know why. I think he should just play cricket, he’s so talented and a strong cricketer and every team needs a player like that. But cricket is not an individual game like tennis, it requires every player to manage himself within the team and go with the system and the team. You can’t be above the team, you have to be part of the team.”
Since November, India have faced their own problems with trying to fill the void of an icon after the end of Tendulkar’s 24-year international career but Dev feels the team has to forget him and try to move on.
“I don’t really think his retirement should cause much disruption. I don’t look at it that way,” he explained. “I think Sachin has done his job. You can’t expect the man to play 100 years of cricket. He’s played for 24 years, he’s served his country well and he’s done everything any cricketer would hope to do. You have to move on in life and if you start talking about him all the time then the team is not going to settle.”
But while Tendulkar’s silky skills will not be on display in the coming months, India have a ready-made replacement in the shape of 24-year-old Virat Kohli, arguably the most exciting young batsman in international cricket.
“Without a doubt, I think he will go on to become India’s greatest batsman and make more records than anybody else,” Dev said.
“I see the talent and ability in this young boy and it’s amazing, huge for his age. Maybe better than Tendulkar at 24. I don’t think even Viv Richards had such a record by the time he was 24. He definitely has more ability than any other 24-year-old player in the world. But it’s natural, the next generation always has to be better. If as human beings we don’t believe that the next generation will be better, then you don’t believe in evolution. So far Kohli has shown that he has the potential to break all the records by the time he’s 32-34 barring injuries and fitness issues.”
Kohli has shown such a calm head in adversity that there have even been calls for him to replace MS Dhoni as captain of the Test side but Dev believes this would be extremely premature.
“Why do we need to push him so early?” he asks. “It’s not his time yet, that will come. I think it’s important that he waits. He’s young, he will have that opportunity in the future when he’s a little older and wiser. Dhoni is a mature captain so let him do his job. If you made Kohli captain now with Dhoni playing under him, there would be so much confusion as to who was really in charge, that would not be fair on the team.”
Dev is in no doubt that Dhoni should remain captain heading India’s defence of the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next year.
“If he’s fit enough then there should be no argument because he’s one of the finest batsmen we have seen,” he said. “How many players have come in at No. 6 or 7 in 50-over cricket and still managed to average more than 50? In the history of the game we’ve never seen anybody who’s a better finisher. He’s won the Twenty20 World Cup, the 50-over World Cup, everything in that form of the game.”
However, in order to compete against the likes of Australia and South Africa next year, India will need to improve their performances on the kind of fast, bouncy pitches which have been their downfall on many occasions in the past.
“At the moment, we can play good cricket on bouncing tracks but we’ve done it in patches,” Dev said. “For the majority of the time we’ve failed and that’s why we’ve struggled to get the same results outside of the subcontinent. But we need to improve that and we can do it. It’s down to technical adjustments, the same reason why Australia lost four Test matches out of four when they came to India. Technically they are not suited to turning and low-bouncing pitches. But for any team to dominate, they have to play well in all conditions. Only then can you become No.1.”
One of the key questions for India will be to find a settled opening pair, beginning against England. In the absence of Virender Sehwag, they have struggled to find an opener capable of striking fear into fast bowlers but Dev feels Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan have an excellent chance to establish themselves over the next few months.
“They are talented and hard working but it still depends on their performances and if these two boys have a good series in England then we can be proud of them,” he said. “However it will be a big test to see if they have the mentality needed for Test cricket because three months will be a very tough tour.”
By David Cox