As the duel in Sydney between India and Australia continues, the one painful fact that will be at the back of every Indian cricket fan's mind is that the series has already been lost. The Border-Gavaskar trophy is Australia's. But has the Indian Test team taken a step forward or back in Australian conditions? (Sydney Test: Scorecard | Day 4 Report | Highlights)
Going by just the overall series result, nothing has changed since India's last tour Down Under. They lost then, they have lost now. But is that the only thing that cricket fans will be looking at? The only parameter by which the team will be judged? Perhaps not. (Also read: Ashwin rues leaking runs | Ashwin's 50 and Four wickets brings small cheer)
On the 2011-12 tour, India managed to score 300-plus in just 1 out of their 8 innings. This time they have gone beyond 300 in 5 out of 7 innings so far. The man who has really grown as a Test batsman is Virat Kohli. He was the highest run-getter for India on the 2011-12 tour with 300 runs in 8 innings. He is once again the No. 1 India batsman, having more than doubled his last run tally already. Sunil Gavaskar, who was the first Indian batsman to score 4 centuries in an overseas Test series before Kohli emulated that feat has in fact told NDTV that the next era in Indian cricket could well be the Virat Kohli era. The question whether Kohli can score regularly away from home was answered emphatically on this tour. (Steve Smith, the New Cricket 'Don' of Australia)
It's easy not to notice any other batsman too much when talking about Kohli, but Murali Vijay's performance in the series so far has been one that must be highlighted. He might have missed out on a spot in India's World Cup squad, but with over 400 runs, including 1 century he has firmly cemented his place as an opener in the Test team. Don't forget that he became the first Indian opener to cross the half-century mark on four occasions on a tour Down Under. (India need Kumble to End Overseas Bowling Nightmare: Ganguly)
Ajinkya Rahane, who is averaging over 51, is also a step forward. And then there is KL Rahul. A young man who had a horror debut Test before showing why he is rated very highly by the selectors. His century at the SCG was only the 4th instance of an Indian batsman scoring his maiden Test ton in just his 3rd international innings. There's no doubting the fact that he is a find and a step forward for Indian cricket. (Bhuvneshwar Dismissal Raises DRS Question Again)
The batting has held its own remarkably well. But what about the bowling? After all, any expert will tell you that it's the bowlers who win Test matches. During the Melbourne Test, Sunil Gavaskar told NDTV "India's bowling was hopeless as they never looked like taking wickets. Whatever wickets they got were gifted to them and not earned." Former India spin great EAS Prasanna recently said that the fast bowlers who have been picked in the World Cup squad, all of whom have played in the Test series vs Australia are not wicket-taking bowlers. But it's not just the incisiveness of the bowlers that has been questioned. It's also the way India let Australia off the hook on multiple occasions. Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav might be fast, but they have hardly troubled the Aussies. This team remember also doesn't have the likes of Sachin, Sehwag and Yuvraj, who were very handy part-time bowlers. (Joe Burns Feels Spinners Will Play Major Role on Day 5)
Is India's improvement on Australian soil lopsided then?
There's no doubt that India have been far more competitive in this series than they were in 2011-12. But they have lost the key moments, blown the chance to win Tests on Australian soil and not been able to go for the jugular. MS Dhoni has always maintained that this team is learning fast. VVS Laxman recently told NDTV that there are many positives for India in this series and that this team will start winning regularly abroad very soon. A step forward or back? You decide.