India were handicapped by the injury to off-spinner Ravi Ashwin in the fouth Test against England at Southampton and that cost them the series.
On a pitch conducive to spinners and where England’s Moeen Ali scalped nine on the Test, Ashwin struggled to land the ball in the same area consistently as he struggled with a hip injury he carried from the third Test. Why the Indian team decided to pick an unfit Ashwin in a decider is a pertinent question but the fact is Ashwin aggravated his injury and India lost the Test by 60 runs and with it the Pataudi Trophy.
It was believed left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja would have been a better option as on wickets that offer sharp turn, he is a lot more lethal than regular off-spinners as he has a strong action and can get the ball to zip off the surface.
That belief was proven to be true in the fifth and final Test at The Oval as Jadeja showed the management what could have been. In the first innings, Jadeja kept a tight line and got the ball to turn appreciably at times to pick up four wickets from 30 overs while giving away just 79 runs. For comparison, Ashwin took one wicket from 37 overs in Southampton while giving away 84 runs on a pitch that was borderline minefield.
Then with India down and almost out in their first innings in London, Jadeja rose to the occasion and in the company of debutant Hanuma Vihari (56) dug India out of a hole and took them from 160-6 to 292 with an unbeaten 86.
His six down the ground off James Anderson with the second new ball was a sight to behold and spoke as much about his intent as it did about his ability.
Ravindra Jadeja (l) and Ravichandran Ashwin.
Jadeja offers a strong bowling action, consistency in line and length, world-class fielding skills and quick runs down the order. Ashwin, as good as he is, does not exude consistency. He has chopped and changed his action, switched to leg-spin bowling, and has failed to remain fit during what should have been the defining series of his career.
Moving forward, India should look to give Jadeja the first crack when it comes to away Tests. There will generally be just one spot for spinner, especially when India tour Australia later in the year, and the character that Jadeja has show in London this week will be a lot more valuable than the uncertainty that surrounds Ashwin’s brilliance.
What also works in Jadeja’s favour is he is fitter than Ashwin and can be trusted to play the holding role. All these factors should put the left-arm tweaker ahead of Ashwin in the pecking order for away Tests.
The Indian team were left frustrated after two ball changes out of a total of three in the final session of Day Three of the final Test at The Oval left them with a less responsive cherry.
The Duke ball that India received for the second innings went out of shape after 20 overs and India demanded for a change of cherry. Umpire Kumar Dharmasena decided to change the ball after the older one was found to be out of shape.
However, the ‘new’ ball provided to the Indians turned out to be in poor condition. While the earlier ball the Indians had was out of shape, it had a good shine on one side and was moving considerably in the air and off the pitch. However the changed ball lacked any shine and was equally dull on both sides which meant hardly anything for the quicks to work with.
Think the ball change only disrupted Moeen's batting flow and focus, could have well been a new ball on a flat pitch and would have bowled him.#ENGvIND— Suneer (@suneerchowdhary) September 9, 2018
Captain Virat Kohli was visibly upset at being forced to bowl with a ball that was going to do nothing for his bowlers. He asked umpire Dharmasena to change the ball again but couldn’t do so.
And just as expected, the swing and seam died down completely.
Three overs later, the ball went out of shape again and India got the ball changed. The ‘newer’ ball produced a wicket first ball with Ravindra Jadeja landing the ball in the footmarks and bowling Moeen Ali through the gate. However, it was the same story when it came to the seamers as the ball pretty much went straight on.
Alastair Cook and Joe Root got to bat in the best conditions and push the lead towards 150. However, a third ball change close to stumps saw them receive a cherry with a much better shine and Jasprit Bumrah started to move the ball both ways immediately.
Ravi Shastri’s tenure as India coach is unraveling faster than you can say ‘tracer bullet’. As pompous the former India all-rounder sounds in his press conferences, the deficiencies in his methods become evident on the field.
India have promised a lot but have failed to deliver spectacularly this year. A 2-1 series defeat in South Africa was chastening but there was hope of victory against a diffident England side as the No1 Test team has a top-class bowling attack and an in-form batsman in Virat Kohli capable of scoring most of the runs on his own.
But after four Test matches in the Pataudi Trophy, India have fallen behind 3-1 with the prospect of finishing 4-1 at The Oval. What has hurt most Indian fans is the manner in which India squandered winnable positions in Birmingham, Southampton and The Oval. Not only that, the team made some major selection blunders like picking an extra spinner on a greentop at Lord’s and selecting an injured Ravi Ashwin in the fourth Test on a spinning pitch.
What’s worse, the team played just one tour game before the start of the series and even took days off to roam around Europe. All this points to a coaching staff not doing the job it is supposed to.
Shatstri’s predecessor Anil Kumble was a hard task master and put into place a sound structure that ensured higher fitness standards, consistency in selection and a general respect of cricketing procedures. However, Kumble was seen as too strict by some players and was thus asked to leave.
His relation with captain Kohli deteriorated beyond repair and the Indian board had no choice but to seek a replacement. However, while Shastri has a great rapport with the Kohli, the team as a whole has fallen well below desired standards even as Kohli the player continues to reach new heights.
What is good for Kohli is proving to be bad for the team and it is high time the BCCI ends the Kohli-Shastri partnership and brings in a senior figure who knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level, has good coaching experience and commands respect of the players. As of now, the person best suited for the job is former India captain Rahul Dravid.
Dravid volunteered to work with ‘A’ team and U-19 team as he felt more comfortable preparing youngsters for the next level as in international cricket there isn’t much a coach can do. However with Shastri, the basics have gone out of the window and India need a sensible head to stop Kohli from making more blunders.
The India captain still maintains tour games are not that important as the teams provided are not of the highest quality. India didn’t play a tour game in South Africa and had just one in England. But Kohli still refuses to accept it was a mistake. India played a clearly unfit Ashwin in the decider but the team insisted before the fourth match that the spinner has recovered. Someone like Dravid, if given the free hand, will never allow the situation to reach such a stage.
Dravid has worked wonders with the U-19 team, leading them to the World Cup triumph earlier in the year, while almost every cricketer in the ‘A’ team swears by the input they have received from the batting legend in improving their game. Kohli needs someone of the stature of Dravid to stop him from making bad calls because he has already made some howlers and is yet to accept those mistakes.
The issue here, mainly, will be if Dravid wants the role especially after seeing how a great like Kumble was forced out of the team. However, with the team needing a strong guiding hand to rein in the tempestuous Kohli, Dravid is just the man the team needs. Whether they get him is another matter.