Sanjay Manjrekar

India have one problem to sort out

Unlike on past overseas tours, where many flaws came to light, now it is only their batting technique that needs work

Sanjay Manjrekar
Sanjay Manjrekar
The scoreline of 3-1 is somewhat flattering for England's performance in this series. Let's be honest, they weren't that good. Having said that, India will have to (even if grudgingly) accept and endure yet another overseas series loss and the fact that their overseas record continues to be dismal.
India were a close second in the series, but as we know, no one remembers the guy who came a close second. Everyone remembers and felicitates the guy who came first, the champion.
If India were a champion team, they would have clinched all those crucial opportunities to win not just Tests but series, both in South Africa and in England. In the first Test in South Africa, in Cape Town, they had to get 208 runs to win, and managed just 135. In the first Test in England, at Edgbaston, they had to get 194 to go 1-0 up; they failed there too. In Southampton, on the easiest batting surface of the series, they had to get 245 to win; they fell 61 runs short. And mind you, their current batting line-up is largely made up of batsmen on their second trip to these countries.
The bright side of India's overseas woes after all these years is that they now have only one issue to address and that's their batting. With fitness now ingrained in the Indian cricket culture, and generally among the youth of India, more and more kids are taking up seam bowling and this department looks like it may be healthy for a while. With Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav in the reserves, the spin department too seems well stocked.
Slip-catching is showing promise. In Rishabh Pant and Wriddhiman Saha, India have two good wicketkeeping options. Crucially, this team under Virat Kohli is very good temperamentally - a long-standing weakness for India overseas.
Really, it's only the batting that needs to be sorted. So for the first time in a long, long time, during which India have had these issues of underperformance overseas, they have just one area of their cricket that needs to be repaired: the batting, and specifically batting techniques.
It's basically about finding two batsmen outside the current lot with good defensive techniques against both spin and seam.
Selectors generally go for someone who is scoring heavily at the lower levels. It's imperative that they now look at these batsmen's technique: see if their game is "tainted" by white-ball cricket or whether they can still play back to balls that are short and go forward to balls that are pitched up.
The biggest takeaway from this Test series was how it has been proved beyond doubt that to excel in the oldest format of cricket, you need the old-fashioned virtues - like a sound defensive technique - to succeed.
For the first couple of Tests the Indian batsmen paid the price for being on the front foot no matter the length of the ball. This is a habit from white-ball cricket and flat pitches, where you can hit through the line to good-length balls that come in one straight line. Also, since the advent of helmets, the fear of the cricket ball hurting you is non-existent, so batsmen are pushing forward all the time.
Another aspect of Test match batting, the vintage ability to leave the ball outside off alone, is vital for batsmen in overseas Tests, where the ball does not come in one straight line all the time. No one bowls on the sixth stump outside off in white-ball cricket - that's where the guideline is for the umpire to call it wide - so batsmen weaned on white-ball cricket are unaccustomed to this line, and with it, also unaccustomed to the art of leaving balls alone.
Once India started leaving more balls outside off alone, they looked less like fish out of water. Kohli managed to survive and then thrive not because he was taking a big stride forward but because he left a lot of balls alone outside off stump.
It was fantastic watching young Sam Curran bat. He is such a natural talent and his success as a batsman is no surprise: he did all that a batman needs to do to succeed in conditions like this. He played the ball under his nose every time, and yes, his batting was about being on the front foot or back, depending on the length of the ball.
So here is what the Indian selectors need to do to solve Indian cricket's overseas problems. Find batsmen who can: 1) leave balls outside off, 2) play the ball close to their bodies with a still bat, and 3) who can play both off the front foot and back foot. In fact, if India had two other such batsmen alongside Kohli in this team, the scoreline would have been 3-1 in their favour.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar