Eng v Ind India batsman Virat Kohli pulls a ball to the boundary

Published on August 18th, 2018 | by Arunabha Sengupta

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Thoughtful strategy pays some dividends for India

🕓 Reading time: 5 minutes

“However, at the end of the day, reaching 300 should be seen as a major improvement on the dismal shows of the recent past. And it was a thoughtful readjustment that made it happen. The Indians should be reasonably satisfied with that”

Whether it was Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul with their decent enough partnership at the start, or Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane and their superb association through a session and a half, or even Cheteshwar Pujara’s curious brain-fade, it was clear that Indians had thought through their batting woes and had approached this do-or-die Test with a definite plan.

We saw it when the openers were at the crease. Dhawan was restrained, so was Rahul.  The score moved along, but the watchword was caution. Especially against balls that were pitched up and moved.

The score proceeded to 26 without loss after 9 overs. Ben Stokes replaced Stuart Broad. At the other end, James Anderson switched to round the wicket.

The initial assault had been seen through. Things were not happening for England as easily as they had in the first two Tests. The strategy was very very clear. Especially when Stokes pitched short twice in two overs and was first cut in front of point for four by Dhawan and then forced off the backfoot through the covers.

Indians had made up their minds not to give their wickets away cheaply to the moving ball. They defended, with a plan and with confidence, whenever the ball was pitched up. They played late, were not averse to leaving it. They were not indecisive, tentative. Yet, they were not prone to letting rank half-volleys and full tosses go scot-free either. The English ploy that had worked in the last couple of Tests hit a stubborn dead end. The bowlers started to pitch a bit short. And the Indian batsmen cashed in.

Later in the day, Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant adopted the same approach to play the seven overs with the second new ball.

The strategy worked well enough.

Yes, there were exceptions.  So intent was, they on this strategy that a couple of gaffes also resulted.

Rahul played an audacious pull off a ball that should have been forced through the off-side. And of course, Pujara perished to the hook shot at the stroke of lunch. Other than that, the ploy proved successful.

And as the day grew longer and the ball older, the front foot strokes did find their way into the scorebooks.

The scorecard, would, however, have looked a lot better had Pandya not fallen in the dying moments of the day … or Rahane and Kohli not got out close to their respective hundreds.

Positives

The well-thought-out approach did pay off in various ways. The start was much better than India has had in recent times. Not only in terms of the runs scored, but also in the way the batsmen negotiated the bowling. Every ball did not look likely to take a wicket when the shine was on. Yes, the wicket was slower than expected, yet the application was commendable.

Ajinkya Rahane, that jewel in the batting line up that had lost much of its spark during the last two years, regained some of his polish. Indeed, he was a delight to watch with his colour and confidence returning in sure and steady shades.

Kohli himself has already underlined that he can score runs in any condition around the world. That he was in full control most of the innings demonstrates that he not only backs himself and his phenomenal talents to the full, he is also prepared to stick to a general plan even if it means curbing his instincts to a great extent. The pull that he executed off Broad was a testimony to the risk-free approach he adopted today. The ball was short and there was a deep backward square leg. Kohli got inside the line, rolled his wrists, kept the ball down and sent it to the fine leg boundary. Absolute perfection.

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One understands that in the classic tradition of Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, anything below 100 by Kohli will always be considered a failure, but this was a near-perfect effort till his eventual and rather needless demise.

The Kohli-Rahane partnership was perhaps the impetus missing in the Indian saga in the series so far. It had been difficult for the side to get a partnership going in the last two Tests. Here, with the two most elegant and most authoritative batsmen of the side taking the game by the scruff of the neck, it did make batting look easy and instilled a sense of confidence in the dressing room that two Tests of playing and missing had reduced to a minimum.

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Hardik Pandya has been criticised often enough in recent times. But, as I have done in the recent times, I will continue to say that he has looked more assured than some of the Indian top order batsmen in the series. Here too, his application was commendable. It is very easy to dismiss him saying that he is no Kapil Dev, especially in the cricket-space where comments with zero thought-investment are so popular. But he definitely is a fast maturing version of Hardik Pandya and that is all that matters. Like in the previous Tests he applied himself with plenty of pluck and did, like on so many recent occasions, prove more than handy. He may not have scored much, but the 58 balls faced by him during the day

Rishabh Pant sending the second ball of his Test debut into the Members Stands is perhaps the sign of the tremendous confidence young India throws up. The way he got behind the balls was also encouraging and revealing. And these do raise questions whether it would not have been more prudent to have tried a few youngsters earlier in this tour instead of sticking to an established yet unstable and underperforming top oder.

Even as the shadows lengthened, the flannels of the slip fielders fluttered in the wind, and the duo of Broad and Anderson rushed in with the second new ball, the way the pair of Pant and Pandya withstood the assault was a most gratifying sight for the Indian fan.

It was a pity that Pandya fell with minutes to go for the close of play … but a crucial period was played off with less than major damage.

Worrying factors

On the other hand, there are definitely things to worry about.

Towards the end of his innings, Rahane seemed to be losing his concentration. He hit a short ball in the air and was lucky to survive, edged a couple of times, got a streaky boundary, and finally fell to a magnificent catch by Alastair Cook. Although this innings should boost his confidence a lot, there are still signs that he is a step away from his best nick.

The big worry, in a huge way, remains Pujara. The Indian No 3 is dreadfully out of form and confidence. If the strategy of scoring against the short ball has backfired, it has done so only in his case. Yes, Chris Woakes did bounce one at him, but Pujara, intent on scoring off that delivery, chose to hook … regardless of the situation. It was just three balls from lunch. Every strategy comes with overriding conditions and parameters, and a professional cricketer playing his 60th Test has no business to play a careless stroke at that juncture. He seems in no state of mind to even think out solutions on his own.

And seriously, if he is insecure enough to hover between abysmal strike rates and series of low scores, he can do with some rest from the line-up till he gets his bearings right.

However, at the end of the day, reaching 300 should be seen as a major improvement on the dismal shows of the recent past. And it was a thoughtful readjustment that made it happen. The Indians should be reasonably satisfied with that.

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About the Author

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Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and the author of Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets @senantix.



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