All of 26 balls. That’s what the five batsmen in the Indian top order not named Virat Kohli averaged at the crease in the first test against England, recalling the ghosts of travels past. As the ball at Edgbaston talked, they struggled to stay in the conversation. If the cricketing discourse at the beginning of this century was of Indians becoming better travellers, then this test batting lineup is still struggling to continue, leave alone cement, that turnaround in a meaningful way.

Compared with other places where the ball does a fair bit in the air and off the pitch, Indian batsmen have done much better in England. Of the 11 Indian batsmen who have amassed more than 5,000 runs in test cricket, a reasonable marker of longevity, six average above 40 runs per innings.

Every decade has had its shining star. In the 1970s, there was Sunil Gavaskar. In the 1980s, there was Dilip Vengsarkar. In the 1990s, there was the episodic flourish of Mohammad Azharuddin. The years around the turn of this century had three shining stars, and they all set worthy benchmarks. One of them, Sachin Tendulkar, leads this set of 11 batsmen in runs. Over 30 innings in England, Tendulkar amassed 1,575 runs at an average of 54—which is the same as his career average. About 200 runs behind Tendulkar is Rahul Dravid, though he played seven fewer innings. Dravid ended up averaging 69 in England, against his career average of 52.

Dravid is one of four batsmen in this set who averaged more in England than across their career. He had a positive average differential of 16—all the more impressive given his overall high career average. Other notable positive average differential batsmen were Sourav Ganguly, who averaged 65 in England for an average differential of 23, and Vengsarkar, whose doughty, back-to-back centuries in Lord’s and Leeds set up a historic 2-0 win for India in 1986.

However, even among this set of greats, there are those who have struggled in England. Despite his heroic efforts in the last test, Virat Kohli’s average in England is still 26 runs below his career average (28 versus 54). Keeping him company is Virender Sehwag, whose “sees ball, hits ball" approach only yielded an average of 22 runs in England.

Crease occupation is a notable factor running through all of India’s batting successes in England. Barring Azharuddin, the other five Indian batsmen averaging above 40 runs in England, averaged above 90 balls per innings, or 15 overs. Assuming equal strike rotation, that’s roughly a crease occupation of 30 overs—a significant period in the framework and life cycle of a test match in England.

Dravid, whose game was built around defence, leads in crease occupation. He dug in, held one end up and averaged 134 balls per innings. This added overs to the ball, neutralized its sting and made life easier for his batting partners. Ganguly, who batted a fair bit with him in England, is the next best, with 113 balls per innings.

All these figures stand in stark contrast to the current crop of batsmen. Perhaps it is a reflection of the game’s evolution but, after Murali Vijay who averages 91 balls per inning, there’s a steep drop to Ajinkya Rahane (53 balls), Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara (51 balls) and Shikhar Dhawan (35 balls). While all of them have played fewer innings, the inability to occupy the crease could explain India’s recent struggles in England.

Another testament of Dravid’s defence is his mode of dismissals in England. The pronounced ball movement lends itself to dismissals at the wicket. Dravid was bowled or leg before wicket (LBW) only 22% of the time in England putting him up there with other defence-first batsmen: Vengsarkar (13%) and Gavaskar (21%). By comparison, Sehwag was bowled or LBW in 60% of his 10 dismissals in England, Ganguly 53% and Tendulkar 50%. As the English summer unfolds, these are some of the markers against which the current crop of batsmen will be measured.

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