PARTAB RAMCHAND | 5 AUGUST, 2018
Questions as always
When a Test match is well contested, has more than its share of twists and turns and ends in a tense, close finish questions are bound to be raised. Little mistakes get magnified and queries are asked about the batting order and the bowling changes. And of course the selection process too comes under the scanner. Why was this player picked? Why was that player dropped? Should the team have gone in with an additional spin bowler or seam bowler? Was this the best team picked on form and given the prevailing conditions?
Whatever the weaknesses in the winning team they are bound to escape scrutiny. It is the team that has lost the match by a narrow margin that faces the inquisition. And so it is no surprise that the Indian team is under the scanner after the narrow loss in the first Test at Edgbaston.
Certainly mistakes should be rectified but really would the Indians have fared better had Cheteshwar Pujara been included? Would the result have been different had KL Rahul opened the innings with Murali Vijay in place of Shikhar Dhawan? Had Kuldeep Yadav played would have the result have been reversed?
At best all this could only be conjecture. Suffice to say that England were just about the better team and deserved their success. India however can be proud of having fought all the way till the end and the performance was encouraging enough to show that with some luck they could draw level in the five-match series perhaps even in the second Test at Lord's starting on Thursday.
Indeed if one is able keep aside the emotions and the disappointments there are things to savour about the Indian performance. The batting of Virat Kohli and the bowling in general and that of Ishant Sharma and Ravi Ashwin in particular.raises hopes that all is not lost and a 31-run defeat can easily be reversed. It is just a matter of things falling into place for England are anything but a great team. There are flaws aplenty which can be exposed.
So let us not be too harsh on the touring squad. Indeed the margin of the ultimate result should put things in the proper perspective. Yes, it is extremely disappointing to go down by a narrow margin especially when during the Test there had been times when India were in the favourites circle. But then of course England too were in command occasionally so it all balances out when it comes to a contest between two sides who are evenly matched.
There are those who will point out that India are the No 1 ranked side while England are No 5 but then playing at home bridges that gap. Let us also not forget that India have now lost eight of the last ten Tests they have played in England.
I am not advocating a fatalistic attitude. Indeed as I said mistakes should be rectified and players who have failed should be replaced. All I am saying is that one does not need to press the panic buttons and the changes should be made with a balanced approach.
When it comes to analysing a players’ performance in the Test let us not even bother about discussing Kohli, Ashwin or Ishant. They are beyond reproach. The captain’s hundred was one of the finest compiled by an Indian in a Test in England and was superlative even by his own lofty standards. A lot has been said and written about Ashwin’s abysmal record outside Asia and he seems determined to set it right.
The England batsmen found it difficult to fathom his bag of tricks and that augurs well for the rest of the series. There has always been a question mark over Ishant and why his overall record does not match his undoubted talent. At Edgbaston he showed that despite the rise of young fast bowlers he is the spearhead of the attack and one can only hope that inconsistency does not plague him again during the series.
But cricket is all about being a team game and over dependence on two or three players can only lead to disaster. It is clear that it was the batting and not the bowling that let the team down at Edgbaston. A cursory glance at the four totals would only confirm this. A team cannot hope to win a match when one batsman contributes almost half the total. The fact that the next highest after Kohli’s two scores was 31 is proof of how fragile the batting was. There were double failures by all the top order batsmen and when this is the case the team will always face an uphill task.
The batting then has to be tweaked a bit and clearly Pujara has to take his rightful place at No 3 but whether Rahul is to be dropped or accommodated at the top of the order in place of Dhawan is a decision the team management has to take. The scorebook might illustrate the batting failures but it will not be able to show the errors in the field, particularly in the slip cordon.
With the ball swinging considerably in England it becomes even more important to have faultless catching in the slips but the Indians do not have a settled cordon in place. Dinesh Karthik did not exactly cover himself with glory both behind the stumps and in front of them. Could the big moment have arrived for Rishabh Pant?
A question mark also arises over Hardik Pandya. On the evidence of what one saw at Edgbaston he cannot be classified as an all rounder for his bowling was all over the place. Though he made valuable contributions with the bat his place could be in doubt if the team management decide to pick a second spinner in either Ravindra Jadeja or Kuldeep Yadav.
There is nothing to worry about the seam attack. Indeed there could be a problem of plenty once Jasprit Bumrah is fit and ready to return.