India are set to resume their overseas leg in a country where they are yet to win a Test series. Series defeats in South Africa and England earlier this year were followed by a dominant series win against a hapless West Indies team at home. But the tour to Australia, who will be without two of their key players Steven Smith and David Warner, will be a measure of how much the players and the management have learnt from the mistakes of their previous tours.
India have an abysmal overseas record ever since their memorable win at Durban in 2010. The beginning of this decade saw India draw the series 1-1 in South Africa and retain the number one position. After that, India have played a total of 29 tests in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England. They have managed to win only three Tests, drawn five and lost the remaining 21 matches.
The series losses against South Africa and England earlier this year were comparatively more competitive although the scorelines suggest otherwise. The improved show might be attributed to the increase in the quality of India's pace department. But there is still a lot of areas where the team and the management need drastic changes or improvements.
What has been the root cause for this under-par show of one the dominant sides in world cricket? Why have the subcontinent giants not been able to conquer territories outside Asia? Here's a detailed analysis.
#5 Inability to get the lower-order out
This has been a problem which has continued to haunt India traditionally. After the retirement of Anil Kumble who usually got lower-order wickets quite easily, this problem has been exaggerated even more.
At home, this is nullified by India's strong batting. However, in overseas conditions where wickets are not so flat, this leads to a moral victory for the opposition and in turn costs India dearly.
Since 2011, in Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand, the home team has scored 42.9 runs per wicket for their seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth wickets. Compare it to South Africa and Australia, the number comes down to 21.6 and 19.4 respectively.
India have conceded nine century and 18 half-century stands for the seventh wicket or lower in this period. Pakistan, the only other side to concede more than one century stand, conceded a total of three stands of 50 or more in the same time period. India's record against lower-order batting in overseas Tests has been disappointing.
Such stats are bound to hurt any team in the world, no matter how strong their batting line up is. Because as we know, wickets win Test matches.
#4 Letting the opposition off the hook
During this period of poor overseas performances, most matches were such where India went on to lose or draw from where they should have won comfortably. Letting the opposition of the hook releases the pressure built on them and in fact transfers the pressure back to the Indians.
There have been numerous examples. Melbourne in 2011, Trent Bridge in 2011, Johannesburg in 2013, Wellington in 2014 are few instances where India's bowlers let go off some golden chances to drive home the advantage and grab the opposition by their neck.
Durban in 2014, Adelaide in 2014, Southampton in 2014, Centurion in 2018 and Birmingham in 2018 are some examples where Indian batsmen failed to take advantage of promising positions.
If they are to come out victorious on Australian soil, Kohli's troops need to make use of every opportunity and take advantage every time the opposition is in any kind of pressure.
#3 Poor bench strength
India are never known to boast a large pool of quality fast bowlers. It was always a case of one or two quality pacers capable of troubling the opposition.
What went wrong for India was those injuries to major pacers at crucial junctures. Zaheer Khan got injured on the first day of the 2011 England tour and was replaced by a rusty RP Singh. Ishant Sharma, after his match-winning 7/74 at Lords, got injured and was replaced by a wayward Varun Aaron.
These are a couple of examples where injuries to one of the lead bowlers had a huge negative impact on the whole team. Opposition made merry and India suffered heavy defeats.
This situation has changed to a great extent at present. The five pacers in the squad for South Africa and England series were all capable of walking into the starting XI. So injury to a major bowler won't affect the team in Australia as much as it did before.
#2 Lack of adequate warm-up matches
Poor scheduling has hampered the Indian team's preparations for important overseas tours. And this is a serious problem that needs to be taken care of. We often see the players land on foreign soil after playing lengthy home series and hence are unable to participate in proper warm-up matches.
If we look at the teams which perform well overseas, especially South Africa, their board provides the team ample time for preparation and does not burden the players with too many matches. BCCI needs to take a leaf from their book in order to get better results overseas.
However, the scheduling for the Test series in England was done in such a way that the team gets enough time to get acquainted to the conditions. India will play three limited-overs matches before they begin the Test series on Australian soil.
#1 Regular batting collapses
A batting collapse can make a team lose a Test match in a single session. And what is worse, this problem has been quite repetitive for India at a time when they could least afford to.
For example, take a look at the batting collapses India have suffered only in 2014.
Against opposition teams of such high calibre at their home, such collapses are the last thing you want. More often than not, these batting collapses let India fall from positions of dominance to positions of despair.
The captain cannot do much when his top six get out for a combined tally of below 50 or his bottom eight below 80. Nor can the efforts of bowlers rescue the team from such situations.
It is not that the quality of batsmanship was below par. All of the top six have scored well in one match or the other. But they scored well in patches and not in tandem. Same trait has followed in the tours to South Africa and England in 2018.
India's chances of conquering the unconquered territories in cricket depend largely on the above mentioned factors. It will be interesting to see if India come out as the number one Test side at the end of the 2019 Australian tour or continue to squander another golden opportunity.