Shubman Gill’s struggles in Test cricket continue
In a way, Shubman Gill entered this Test potentially playing for his long-term spot in the first XI, with him set to be in a direct shootout with Shreyas Iyer for the final batting spot once Virat Kohli returns to the side. Gill, who had an average of 30.58 in Tests prior to this series, hadn’t done justice to the faith the management had shown in him. He entered this game needing a statement knock.
However, his 66-ball stay in the middle, if anything, ended up hurting his credibility as a Test batter even more.
At 80/1 in the 13th over, England were under the pump; Gill couldn’t have asked for a better platform and situation to walk into.
However, after shutting shop completely throughout Day 1, prioritizing survival (and surviving multiple close calls), he did the same in the first hour of the second day before inexplicably throwing away his wicket trying to slog the ball across the line.
Gill’s approach today was that of an individual who was visibly confused about the pace at which he needed to bat at. His innings also gave away the impression that he was trying ‘too hard’ to post a big score and cement his spot in the side.
Getting rid of this ‘burden’ he seems to be carrying might be the need of the hour for Gill to crack the Test code.
Why did Stokes under-bowl Leach in the first session?
When England picked a three-pronged spin attack for this Test, it was assumed that the experienced Jack Leach would be the leader of the attack. Especially with Leach having already toured India once, as recently as 2021.
Stokes rather surprisingly threw the ball first to the debutant Tom Hartley on Day 1, but normalcy was expected to resume on the second day, especially with Hartley taking a beating late on the first day.
However, inexplicably, Leach bowled just two overs in the first session of Day 2, despite him going for only 8 runs off those 2 overs. In comparison, the inexperienced Hartley bowled a whopping 11 overs before lunch.
It was not like Leach was under-bowled because Hartley was troubling the Indian batters. Certainly, Hartley had a far better outing today than he did yesterday, but the 24-year-old still dished out plenty of freebies which the Indian batters capitalized on. Without question, Hartley’s inconsistency went a long way in helping Rahul settle.
Stokes’ usage of Leach today was puzzling, to say the least. As it turned out, at stumps on Day 2, the left-arm spinner had just bowled one more over than Root, the fourth spinner in this England XI.
England’s spinners too inconsistent for Stokes’ aggressive fields
It is one thing having extremely aggressive fields for bowlers like Anderson, Robinson and Broad, whom you know will not put a foot wrong, but Stokes, so far, seems to have overestimated the ability of his spinners for his own liking.
Across these two days, Stokes set extremely aggressive fields for both Hartley and Rehan Ahmed, who are not only newcomers but are not bowlers that can be relied upon to be consistent. Sure enough, the pair bowled some brilliant deliveries but they often delivered multiple bad balls per over, which were easily put away by the Indian batters due to the aggressive fields set by England.
In a way, the aggressive fields worked against England’s bowlers as their confidence got dented due to the Indian batters finding the boundary rope consistently. The intimidating nature of the scorecard didn’t help the young spinners, either.
Ultra-aggressive captaincy has been a hallmark of the Bazball era but considering the quality of England’s spinners, Stokes might just have been better off taking it easy and toning it down a bit.
KL Rahul seals his spot in the Test XI for good
Last year, Rahul perhaps slightly harshly got axed from the Test side on the back of a couple of failures against Australia on some very challenging tracks.
But a year on, taking a brand new middle-order avatar, the 31-year-old has sealed his spot in the Test XI for good, and has shown why he needs to be a permanent fixture in this side, notwithstanding the conditions.
The last 18 months have seen Rahul turn into a complete ODI batter. It feels like he’s now slowly getting there in red-ball cricket. A month after posting a stunning ton in Centurion in nightmarish, pace-friendly conditions, he’s posted a sublime 86 in completely contrasting conditions.
If and when India go on to win this Test, Rahul’s 86 might not look like a game-defining contribution, but it was his knock that tilted the contest completely in India’s favour.
On Day 2, India lost Jaiswal on the first over of the day. But not only that, there was also Gill struggling immeasurably at the other end, struggling to find any rhythm. With the pitch also playing its tricks, Rahul walked in, absorbed pressure and counter-attacked masterfully to help India take control of the game. Throughout his innings, he looked in complete control and pretty much dispatched every bad delivery dished out by the inexperienced English spinners.
He unfortunately endured a cruel heartbreak, falling 14 short of a first home ton in 8 years. But you reckon that he’ll break the drought sooner or later, if he continues to bat the way he did today.
Stokes’ England get the premium Indian tourism experience
Prior to the series, everyone wondered if England’s aggressive style of batting would help them unsettle the spinners and pose a challenge to the hosts. However, pretty much everyone forgot that, in order to compete in India, you first need a functioning, world-class spin attack that can make the fullest use of the conditions on offer.
England entered this Test with just one seamer - that too the explosive Mark Wood - with the hope that the spinners will ‘exploit the conditions’ and take care of business. However, they’ve found out over the course of these two days that simply being a ‘spinner’ is not enough to trouble this Indian side at home. You need to be asking questions ball after ball, over after over.
The likes of Nathan Lyon, Todd Murphy and Matthew Kuhnemann managed to do it last year but the trio of Leach, Hartley and Rehan ended up getting a brutal reality check as between them, they conceded close to 300 runs while picking just 4 wickets — on a surface that had plenty of help for spinners.
Touring India is unforgiving because just when you think you have a chance, your soul is crushed by the next batter walking into the middle. That’s what happened to England today. They had a glimmer of hope when Rahul departed but their soul was completely crushed by the duo of Axar and Jadeja.
England can show all the intent they want with the bat, but it’ll be hard for them to challenge India in India until and unless their spinners find a way to get the most out of the spin-friendly surfaces.
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