It happens once, you can call it a fluke. It happens twice, it’s worrisome. It happens three times, it’s danger time.
In three Tests out of five in the Pataudi Trophy, England‘s lower-order batsmen have pulled the hosts out of trouble and put them in control. Credit goes to the likes of Jos Buttler, Sam Curran and co for sticking to the basics and fighting it out in difficult conditions. Both teams have failed to score 400 so far this series, which shows ball has dominated bat. With runs so hard to come by against some quality bowlers, the efforts of England’s lower order are worth twice or maybe three times more in flatter conditions.
England were staring down the barrel at 181-7 at The Oval and in danger of being bowled out under 200. But as has happened throughout the series, India let things drift and the hosts wasted no time in cashing in. In the fifth Test, Buttler’s brilliant 89 helped take the team from 181-7 to 332. He received fine support from Stuart Broad (38) and Adil Rashid (15).
3-1 scoreline doesn't say how well India have played overall in this series. It does say however how poorly they have bowled to England's tail. #EngvInd— Chetan Narula (@chetannarula) September 8, 2018
In the fourth Test at Southampton, England rallied from 86-6 in the first innings to post a match-winning total of 246 thanks to a gutsy 78 from Curran. In the second innings, they recovered from 122-5 to post 271 with Buttler (69) and Curran (46) the stars again. England won by 60 runs and with it the series.
In the first Test, England rose from 87-7 in the second innings to reach 180, thanks once again to the pugnacious Curran (63) as England won by 31 runs. Even in the second Test at Lord’s, the hosts were 131-5 in reply to India’s 107 on a greentop before a fine unbeaten ton by all-rounder Chris Woakes took them close to 400 and set up an innings win.
As much as England have been brilliant after being five down, India have been equally poor letting them off the hook. After the first Test, India should have had specific plans to counter the lower order and tail of England as in a low scoring match they had accumulated too many runs, especially given the nature of the Birmingham pitch.
But be it spin or seam, no Indian bowler has managed to stick to the basics while dealing with England’s lower half. Getting the lower order out consistently is an art and the most effective way always has been and always will be to bowl full and straight. There is a reason why those batsmen come in after five down – they are not specialist batsmen. You keep attacking the stumps and pads and sooner rather than later, they will miss and especially when there is so much help on offer as has been the case this series.
While India’s lower order (number 6-11) scored just 420 runs in the series, England’s amassed 1,068. For all the quality of the India attack, and it is admittedly very good, they still don’t know how to finish things off after taking the first five wickets. It has gone beyond just being frustrating; India’s poor finishing skills have hurt them this series and will only get worse on flatter wickets. They haven’t learnt their lessons in five Tests in England. It’s up to the team management and bowlers to be honest about their shortcomings because everyone knows where India lost the series.
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
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
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.
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.