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India's response to adversity shows Bazball the mirror

Last updated on 26 Feb 2024 | 03:02 PM
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India's response to adversity shows Bazball the mirror

India have a history of winning when they are far low on experience and the Ranchi Test was another addition to the list

“It is satisfying when you win a Test match like that,” said Rohit Sharma after the win in Rajkot. 

The satisfaction in Rohit’s tone was palpable. He didn’t say it for the sake of it. Mostly invincible at home, the series against England has been challenging for India. The hosts had plenty of hurdles to overcome with senior players being unavailable, the subpar form of those played, countering England’s Bazball regime, and moving away from rank turners. They lost the first Test in Hyderabad. 

In the last 10 years, India have lost the first Test of a home series only twice before - against Australia in 2017 and against England in 2021. In 2021, India steamrolled England without giving them a sniff in the remaining games. The 2017 series was much closer but India clinched it with their core stepping up. 

India dished out rank turners in both of these series. This time around, having lost the first Test, they moved to slow-turning wickets. It eventually led to slow-burn Test matches, which meant the team that sustained the pressure longer came out on the top. 

“A lot of challenges were thrown at us but we responded and were quite composed,” Rohit stated the same after sealing the series in Ranchi.

From the batting perspective, these pitches came with the risk of bringing England’s attacking brand of game into play. There were plenty of phases throughout the series, in every single Test, where the Three Lions threatened to run away with the game. However, India found their way back every time. 

From the bowling standpoint, the slow turners reduced some bite of the potential of Indian spinners. Since 2010, this is the first Test home series when the opposition spinners (53) have picked more wickets than the Indian spinners (51). 

This is where India’s once-in-a-generation pacer, Jasprit Bumrah stepped up to bridge the gap. Despite missing a Test, Bumrah is the joint highest wicket-taker for India(17 wickets each for him and Ravindra Jadeja) but his wicket-taking rate is far superior to anyone else on both sides. 

While one can always blame the English batters for shooting themselves in the foot, as they did on Day 3 in Rajkot and Ranchi, Bumrah broke England’s back on one of the most placid tracks in Visakhapatnam. 

The image of Ollie Pope’s flying stumps off a lethal yorker from the Gujarat pacer makes for one of the most cathartic images of the series. You simply don’t see such dismissals by a pace bowler in the subcontinent. Or spells like these. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that India would have found it extremely tough to win this series without Bumrah. It is also a credit to the England team that India needed a fast bowler to step up. 

India’s response to adversity added another layer of “satisfaction” to these wins. They kept losing players one after the other. Virat Kohli pulled out of the first two Tests (and didn’t take any further part in the series). When KL Rahul and Jadeja were injured for the second Test, India held an experience of only 252 Test matches in their XI - roughly 23 Test matches per player. England, in the second Test, had 632 Tests in their XI, creating an experience gap of 380 Tests between the two sides. 

The gap in experience in the third Test was 356 Tests and in Ranchi, 374 Tests. 

This contrast is in sync when India played Australia at the Gabba in 2021. The gap in experience in that match was 290 Tests. This home series win might not be as celebrated as the victory in Australia given that was an overseas tour but certainly, it is one of India’s finest home series wins, rising above similar challenges. In fact, the Men in Blue have a history of winning Test matches when they are far low on experience.

Instead of recalling Cheteshwar Pujara (three hundreds in the ongoing Ranji season), India handed four new Test caps in the series. Thus, they also embraced the inevitable transition process. 

It is a process that has just begun. And India have found a few positives already. Barring Rajat Patidar, every youngster has stamped his impact. 

In only his third Test series, Yashasvi Jaiswal has mustered 655 runs at an average of 93.6, with two double hundreds. The next best batter in the series - Shubman Gill - is 313 runs behind. Gill passed the litmus test of red-ball cricket at the highest level with three vital knocks in India’s second innings - 104, 91 and 52*. Both batters highlighted the one aspect the Bazball regime misses in its portfolio - absorbing pressure when needed. 

Kuldeep Yadav kept the England batters guessing. The trio seems set to take India forward in Test cricket. Of course, a sterner test awaits in overseas conditions. 

Among the debutants, Dhruv Jurel has already raised his hand as the regular wicketkeeper in the side (in home Tests at least) until Rishabh Pant returns. Sarfaraz Khan has vindicated his long impending Test cap. Akash Deep snapped a three-wicket haul in his maiden spell in Test cricket.

This is the first series loss for England since they started Bazballing around 20 months ago. England would feel they missed out on a golden opportunity to win in India. Both sides played good and bad cricket. However, India were quicker to learn with individual brilliance. At the same time, they have taught England the lesson that not everything can be achieved with a single-minded approach. The defense needs to be as good as one’s attack. 

*the gap experience table is revised for accurate description

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