“Perhaps the strain of a high-intensity Test series is already playing on the nerves of the team, and after that incredible game at Edgbaston, we are in for a long dose of anti-climax”
A look at the grass on the wicket, and a glance upwards towards the cloud-cover, and Joe Root had no hesitation in deciding to bowl first.
And when asked about it, Virat Kohli also agreed that he would have bowled.
The results bore testimony to the wisdom of sending the opposition in. In the 8 overs and 3 balls of play possible during the first 6 hours in the day, India slumped to 15 for 3.
Two wickets to absolute gems bowled by James Anderson. And Pujara run out after a mid-pitch misunderstanding which would have even schoolboys hanging their heads in shame. Much of Pujara’s dismissal also had to do with the wicket and conditions. Tentative, woefully out of form, he pushed and ran, eager to get out of the way of Anderson’s venom. And then both he and his captain suddenly seemed to realise that Pujara was flatter than fleet footed.
When the teams returned at 10 past five in the afternoon, the rest of the Indian batting was knocked over in just about 27 additional overs. The paltry 107-run effort lasted just 35.2 overs.
Yes, to this point the thought process of Root and Kohli coincide and make sense.
But, Root opened the bowling with James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Chris Woakes ran in as first change, making the balls deviate viciously. Young Sam Curran was the fourth bowler used, and he cut one back a long, long way to bowl Dinesh Karthik.
Bowling first makes sense if you have four quality seamers.
And India went into the Test with the spinning Yadav, picking Kuldeep ahead of Umesh. With Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami opening the bowling attack, there would have been the less than successful Hardik Pandya to come in as an extra seam option. And there would have the twin spin weapons in the form of Ravichandran Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav.
Is this the ideal attack to bowl first in such conditions?
Besides, if an extra spinner has been picked in the side, would it not be a better option to try and exploit the wear and tear on the wicket, by unleashing them on the English batsmen in the final innings of the match? Traditional thinking has it that a spin-rich attack wants to bat first and bowl last.
In that case, what does one make of Virat Kohli’s comment that he would have bowled first? Is it that Indians did not want to face the English bowling in those conditions? That really does not seem the most positive in terms of thought process.
That is not the only odd thing bit about the Indian team selection and approach going into the Test. The Test had already been reduced to a 4-day affair by the time the toss was carried out. India were already 0-1 down in the series. And they loaded the top order with Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara … two batsmen with pathetic overseas records in the recent past, two batsmen desperately out of form, short of confidence, and renowned for their tardy manner of building innings.
For reference, Vijay has an aggregate of 135 at 13.50 in the last two years of overseas Tests. Pujara’s woes have been documented frequently in these pages. Another point of importance is that Vijay and Pujara have strike rates of 38 and 41 in this country. They struggle to get going. As Pujara did demonstrate with another 24-ball 1 today.
To load the top order with stragglers who don’t really get runs at breakneck speed hints at a lack of positivity in India’s attitude. Shikhar Dhawan has been axed. His overseas record is better in recent times than both Vijay and Pujara. Besides, he scored five more runs in Edgbaston than what Vijay has managed so far in England in the two Tests and his outing for India A. Dhawan also showed a lot of intent in his batsmanship. It is curious why he had to be sacrificed to accommodate both Vijay and Pujara in the line-up.
If India is still suffering from the illusion of perfect batting technique and slow batting translating into actual runs, then they will never graduate from the phase that they spent granting lengthy ropes to the likes of Shiv Sundar Das. And if it is precisely the strokeless staying power of Vijay and Pujara that the team was insistent on investing in, it underlines a rather negative attitude.
This is not the approach of a team that wants to win. There is young Rishab Pant waiting in the wings, who have done rather well in the limited opportunities he has got so far. He could surely not have done worse than what Vijay and Pujara managed. Many of the greatest Indian batsmen have been blooded young in hostile foreign lands. Why not try young Pant? Why not try Karun Nair?
It does seem that there is neither positive thinking nor clarity of thought in the process of Indian team strategy. And it was reflected in the short 35.2-over innings that they most desultorily went though.
Perhaps the strain of a high-intensity Test series is already playing on the nerves of the team, and after that incredible game at Edgbaston, we are in for a long dose of anti-climax.