Three quick fixes to turn things around for India Test team

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The Indian team has lost the Pataudi Trophy in England despite many expecting them to win against and England side with more than a few problems of their own. Virat Kohli‘s team India were extremely competitive during the Test series in South Africa earlier in the year and it was hoped the lessons learnt from there would help world No1 India show they can win series outside Asia as well.

But after four Tests in England, India have fallen 3-1 behind with the final Test going on at The Oval.

There were many reasons for the series defeat. India lost the first Test in Birmingham (31 runs) and fourth in Southampton (60) by fairly close margins after competing with the hosts on equal terms. However at critical moments, their batsmen and bowlers slipped to hand the hosts the advantage and Joe Root’s men didn’t waste the opportunity.

Moving forward, the Indian cricket hierarchy needs to make some alterations to their set-up to ensure the team is in the best possible shape to win away from home. They are:

1. GET RID OF SHASTRI

Kohli and Shastri.

Kohli and Shastri.

India coach Ravi Shastri has proven to be inadequate in getting the team battle ready for the really difficult challenges. His press conferences are all about big words but when it comes to actual decision making, it is clear that he doesn’t have much of a say. The decision to play just one truncated warm-up match before the Test series, have five days off before the first Test, picking an extra spinner in the second Test on a greentop at Lord’s and picking an injured Ravi Ashwin in the fourth Test are just some of the decisions that reflect poorly on Shatri’s decision making abilities.

Any coach with authority would have tapped captain Kohli on the shoulder and asked him to reconsider some of the decisions. The only way India can ensure such blunders aren’t committed again is to have someone like former coach Anil Kumble at the helm who can crack the whip when necessary and ensure the team comes first, even if at the cost of rubbing some egos the wrong way.

2. HAVE AT LEAST TWO WARM-UP GAMES

It is incredible India didn’t play more red-ball cricket before the Test series in England. The Indians thought having high-intensity training is better than warm-up matches against weaker opposition. That didn’t work in South Africa – where they didn’t play any warm-up matches – and didn’t work in England. And it certainly won’t work in the future.

If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail. Test cricket still needs players to go though a process, even though the game is played at a greater pace nowadays. The Indian board must put the players through the wringer of warm-up matches because their demands have resulted in series defeats when victory was very much a possibility.

3. DON’T PICK UNFIT PLAYERS

Ravi Ashwin.

Ravi Ashwin.

India selected an unfit Bhuvneshwar Kumar for the third ODI against England and it made for embarrassing viewing as he barely bowled at 80mph with the hosts wrapping up a series win.

Then in the Test series, India fielded an unfit Ravi Ashwin in the fourth Test on a Southampton surface that had a lot of help for spinners and where Ravindra Jadeja would have been the better option. However, it was Moeen Ali who outbowled Ashwin and India lost the series. The Indian board needs to ask the team management the reasoning behind picking unfit bowlers for such important matches. And also, ensure there is another decision making authority with the team who can step in and make a sensible call.

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Ravi Ashwin mess second instance of India fielding injured player in series decider

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India captain Virat Kohli admitted on Friday that off-spinner Ravi Ashwin had aggravated his niggle and hence wasn’t picked for the fifth Test against England at The Oval.

It was clear to those watching the Indian off-spinner bowl in the fourth Test in Southampton that Ashwin was not at his best. He struggled for rhythm and failed to land successive deliveries on the same spot. On a pitch that had significant footmarks and the ball exploded off the surface as the match wore on, Ashwin was comfortably outbowled by Moeen Ali who took nine wickets in the Test.

It was apparent Ashwin couldn’t complete his action with the same effort that he would normally put behind every ball. It was due to an injury he had picked up in the third Test which India won at Trent Bridge.

There, Ashwin went through the motions with his bowling but it didn’t hurt India as much as the batsmen had piled on the runs and the rest of the pace attack ensured a big win.

But with the series on the line in the fourth Test, India went ahead with Ashwin and paid a big price for it. Kohli’s admission of Ashwin aggravating his niggle and thus not being selected for the fifth Test is the second such instance this tour of India picking an unfit player for a decider.

In the third ODI against England at Leeds with the series 1-1, India decided to field seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar who had been struggling with a serious back injury for many months and was trying to work his way around it.

The management apparently wanted to test his match fitness before the Test series but it became clear that he was well off the mark as he barely touched 80mph and England chased down the target of 257 with 33 balls to spare.

The Indian team management’s plans when it comes to fitness management has been exposed this season with wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha the biggest casualty; the keeper went out with a finger fracture in the IPL and ended up with a long-term shoulder injury during rehab.

And with India fielding unfit players in England, the team management must answer some tough questions by the BCCI hierarchy.

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India spinner Kuldeep Yadav's red-ball struggles continue

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India spinner Kuldeep Yadav.

India‘s left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav is one of the most effective bowlers in limited overs cricket. His variations have seen him upstage established spinners like Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja and push the two out of the Indian set-up in the company of leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal.

But when it comes to red-ball cricket, the scenario is quite different.

Yadav was included in the Test squad in England after mesmerising England batsmen in the T20 and ODI series. He picked up a five-for in the first T20 against England and a six-for in the first ODI to push his way into the Indian Test team mix. However, the Indian team misread conditions in the first two Tests and got the combination wrong.

The pitch in Birmingham offered help to spinners and India went in with just Ravi Ashwin. The wicket at Lord’s for the second match turned out to be a seamer’s paradise but India inexplicably fielded two in Ashwin and Yadav.

The 23-year-old Yadav looked out of sorts as he got a pair and bowled nine overs without success and went for 44 runs.

The Indian management admitted it was a mistake playing Yadav and that seems to have affected his confidence. Now playing for India ‘A’, the ghost of England has followed the wrist spinner.

India ‘A’ lost the unofficial Test to Australia ‘A’ by 98 runs in Bengaluru. In the match, Australia’s left-arm finger spinner Jon Holland picked up nine wickets with six in the second to script a superb win for the visitors.

Yadav, however, only managed four wickets in the match and all of them were of lower order batsmen or tail-enders.

While Ashwin can give the excuse of playing in England, albeit helpful pitches, while nursing a hip injury, Yadav’s efforts at home against a team that has a traditional weakness against any sort of quality spin will not inspire any confidence.

According to quotes published by ESPNcricinfo, Kuldeep said he needs more game time in first-class matches to improve his consistency.

“You have to change your mindset when you come to play with the red ball,” Yadav said. “You need to be very patient. You’re not going to take wickets every time you come up to bowl. For me it’s very important to be patient and not to try too much.”

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