It is not just the senior Indian team that is struggling to chase down fourth-innings totals in red-ball cricket.
The Indian team lost the Pataudi Trophy to England 3-1 by losing the fourth match in Southampton by 60 runs. India failed to hunt down 245 in the fourth Test and 194 in the first in Birmingham to continue the trend of the men in blue failing to achieve fairly gettable targets.
Now it looks the team below them in the Indian set-up has also caught the bug. The India ‘A’ team lost the unofficial Test to Australia ‘A’ in Bengaluru in almost identical fashion as their senior team did in Southampton.
In Bengaluru, India ‘A’ restricted the Aussies to 243 in the first innings with pacer Mohammed Siraj picking up 8-59. Then the hosts managed to take a first-innings lead by scoring 274 thanks to a fighting 91 from Ankit Bawne.
The Aussie batting fared better in the second innings with Travis Head’s 87 taking the score to 292 and giving India a target of 262.
However, India ‘A’ batsmen fell dramatically at the final hurdle as left-arm spinner Jon Holland picked up 6-81 to seal a 98-run victory.
Holland outbowled India international wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav in the match, picking up nine wickets compared to the Indian’s four. In the Southampton Test, it was England offie Moeen Ali who outbowled his counterpart Ravi Ashwin hands down.
So it would be fair to say fourth-innings chases in any sort of Test is a challenge for Indian batting.
The fifth and final Test starts on Friday and Virat Kohli is likely to make a few changes to the team. While there is the case of India going in with their tried and tested players to make the scoreline 3-2 and not 3-1 or 4-1, the fact remains some members of the XI have failed more often than not over the course of the four Tests.
In such a scenario, the management will be tempted to try out a few members of the squad who have been on the bench.
The first name on top of every Indian cricket fan’s mind is teenage opener Prithvi Shaw. The 18-year-old has enjoyed a stellar season, guiding the India U-19 team to World Cup glory early in the year and scoring heavily in first-class matches. In 14 first-class matches of his debut season, Shaw has cracked seven centuries.
In his last four first-class matches for India ‘A’ – two each in England and India – Shaw hit two centuries and one fifty at the top of the order against sides like West Indies A, South Africa A and England Lions. Given the praise Shaw has received from many Indian greats, there is a good chance of him making his Test debut in the fifth game.
According to reports, KL Rahul is likely to be axed from the side after managing just 113 runs from eight innings. While Rahul has been exception in the slip region, taking 11 catches, the fact is he has looked extremely vulnerable against the moving ball. Since Shaw is a proper opener, he should make the cut with Shikhar Dhawan keeping his spot as he is a left-hander and has looked a bit more composed than Rahul.
The other change that is likely to happen is the return of left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja. The pitch for the fourth Test in Southampton had a lot of rough and assistance for spinners. England’s Moeen Ali snared nine wickets while India ace off-spinner Ravi Ashwin struggled to land successive balls on the same spot.
It is believed Ashwin carried the groin/hip injury he picked up in the third Test to the fourth match. His lack of effectiveness hurt the team the most and the Indian management are likely to bring in Jadeja who offers a lot more stability with line and length.
The next three batsmen in the nets for India: Rishabh Pant, Prithvi Shaw, Ravindra Jadeja... pic.twitter.com/43lp8tQ9nc— Arjun Bhardwaj (@ArjunB_74) September 5, 2018
Hardik Pandya should retain his spot as he has the fourth-highest run tally among Indian batsmen and has snared 10 wickets.
The Indian team trained at The Oval on Wednesday and looking at the order of players who turned out to bat, both Shaw and Jadeja should be in the XI.
According to reports, Shaw and Jadeja were in the second batch of batsmen who took to the nets, raising the prospect of their selection.
England prevailed in the fourth Test at Southampton by 60 runs with India and the hosts neck and neck for much of the match. Shastri said the series scoreline could easily have been different had India grabbed their opportunities in the first Test in Birmingham (which India lost by 31 runs) or the fourth.
“The scoreline says 3-1 which means India have lost. What the scoreline doesn’t say that India could have been 3-1 or it could have been 2-2,” Shastri said on Wednesday.
“And the team knows it. They would have hurt and rightly so after the last game. But this is a team that will not throw in the towel. It will come out there and look to compete.”
India had a golden opportunity to win a series in South Africa earlier in the year but they squandered winning moments to lose 2-1. In England, India failed to drive home the advantage in the first and fourth Tests. Captain Virat Kohli said inability to cross the finish line is hurting the team and the coach concurred.
“We have run teams close overseas and we have competed. But now it’s not about competing. We have to win games,” Shastri said. “The endeavour is to understand where you made the mistakes and try to correct it. Fact is you had a chance.”
However, the former India opener said his team remains one of the most competitive team produced by his country in Test cricket and the series defeat does not change his belief.
“As far as crossing the line goes, you have to give credit to Moeen Ali there on the last day (in Southampton). He bowled magnificently. As hard as our guys tried, England were one-up on us there.
“If you look at the last three years, we have won nine matches overseas. I can’t see any other Indian team in the last 15-20 years that has had the same run in such a short time, and you have had some great players playing in those series. So the promise is there, it is just about getting tougher mentally.”