IOL Sport cicket writer, Stuart Hess.
JOHANNESBURG - Ravi Shastri made an interesting remark recently.

No, not that bit about his balls being in his mouth or whatever he said after the Adelaide Test. Rather before India’s tour to Australia. It was about touring in the current era and he was asked about India’s poor record overseas, particularly outside the subcontinent and the Caribbean.

This year India have had the chance to justify their no.1 Test status by tackling three very tough series in a calendar year; South Africa - which they lost, England - which they lost and now Australia - a series they lead with three to play.

“You’ve got to learn from your mistakes,” Shastri started. “When you go overseas and you look at the teams that travel now there aren’t too many teams (that travel well).”

“Australia did for some time during the 90s and during the turn of the century. South Africa did it for a while and other than these two, in the last five-six years, you tell me which team has travelled well. Why pick on India?”

Indeed. There was a period when South Africans could rightly pick on India. That was five to 10 years ago. From February 2008 until the November 2015 tour of India, South Africa played 24 Test series and only lost two series, both on home soil to Australia. On their travels they went unbeaten in 14 series in that period.

2008 was akin to what India have faced this year. Graeme Smith’s team drew in India and won in both England and Australia. Perhaps only now, and considering Shastri’s comments, can we begin to appreciate that superb effort.

India’s performance this year should be looked at in the context Shastri outlined; no one is touring well. South Africans can no longer mock touring sub-continent teams, given the Proteas’ record in that region in the last three years in Tests  Played 8, Lost 5, Drawn 3, Won 0.

India lost here last summer, but were more competitive in the first and third Tests of that series than South Africa were when they played four Tests in India in 2015. And while a 1-4 series defeat in England looks bad, there was only one match of that series that Joe Root’s team truly dominated.

India as Virat Kohli argued are much more competitive now when playing away from home than perhaps any period in its history, bar possibly the mid-2000s when Sehwag, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Tendulkar were in their pomp.

This is a good time to tour Australia if you are an Indian cricketer. The home side’s batting, sans the former captain and former vice-captain is thin, and as South African saw first hand last season, India’s fast bowlers are a match for whatever attack Australia picks.

In all three Tests in South Africa, then in three of the five matches in England and again in the first Test in Adelaide, India claimed 20 wickets. In addition to their talented seamers, spinner Ravi Ashwin appears to have finally learned how to bowl outside of the sub-continent, putting an emphasis on control rather than being too aggressive.

India’s batting is better than Australia’s. So while the groundsman at the new Perth Stadium says his pitch for the second Test will be fast and bouncy, expect India to adapt better to it than the Australians - simply because they’re more experienced and skillful. They showed that here at the Wanderers on a dodgy pitch at the end of the series last season as well.

And if Kohli leads his side to a series win in Australia, then that no.1 Test ranking is entirely justified.

@shockerhess


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