When Ajinkya Rahane toe-ended an attempted slog sweep off Moeen Ali into the hands of Keaton Jennings on the final day of the Oval Test, his dismissal summed up the kind of series he had endured with the bat.
The India deputy skipper had just settled into a nice rhythm but threw away his wicket in a moment of madness with the visitors battling to save the Test on the final day.
On the face of it, Rahane’s numbers in the series are not so shabby when compared to other batsmen in the Indian line up. He finished as their fourth highest run-scorer in the five-match series with 257 runs while notching up two half-centuries.
A series average of just 25.70 does no justice to Rahane’s talents and especially his credentials as an able overseas Test batsman. Despite playing a Test more, he was comfortably outscored by England youngster Sam Curran whose 272 runs came while batting in the lower order.
The 30-year-old Mumbai batsman did play two innings of note with his important 81 in the first innings at Trent Bridge and a dogged 51 in the second innings at Southampton. Apart from these two knocks, Rahane has looked a shadow of the batsman was once hailed as the rock of India’s overseas Test pursuits.
It is the manner of Rahane’s dismissals which will irk the Indian team management the most. The right-hander has now developed a notorious habit of looking extremely fluent and composed at the crease before throwing his wicket away with some wayward shot selection.
What was the most worrying aspect of Rahane’s batting in the series was his tendency to chase at deliveries outside the off stump which could very well have been left alone. Four times in the first two Tests did Rahane display this tendency and all four times he paid the ultimate price by edging the ball towards the slip cordon.
Even in the third Test at Trent Bridge which was won by the visitors, Rahane’s excellent knock of 81 came to an end in the same manner. The sight of Rahane fishing outside the off-stump in cavalier fashion against masters of swinging ball like James Anderson was baffling to say the least.
For a large period, Rahane was considered as India’s most bankable overseas batsman. That mantle has now well and truly been taken up by skipper Virat Kohli while his deputy continues to touch new lows.
Out of the nine Test tons registered by the India middle-order batsman over the course of his career, six have comes overseas. But, more importantly, only two have of them have come in the last three years. Both of those tons came against Sri Lanka at Colombo in the tours of 2015 and 2017 respectively.
The man who was crafting masterful tons at Lord’s and in Wellington in 2014 is now a distant memory and has been replaced by a batsman very much lacking in self belief. From a player who was averaging nearly 50 three years ago or so, Rahane is now only averaging a paltry 30.27 since the start of 2017 and his numbers get even worse when looking at his 2018 displays.
While there aren’t too many contenders to take Rahane’s place in the Test line up for now, but as shown by Murali Vijay’s recent axing from the squad, no player, no matter how senior he might be, is safe from the cull in Kohli’s India.
If he continues in the same vein, there is no doubt that even Rahane’s days could be numbered. As such, India’s next overseas assignment in Australia could be the acid test for the batsman’s Test credentials.
A return to domestic first-class cricket for a while not might be such a bad idea for Rahane given how he has struggled to register the big knocks in recent times. Getting the big scores under his belt before the tour of Australia might just be what the India vice-captain needs for now.
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With 593 runs in nine innings at an average of nearly 66, Kohli has well and truly overcome the ghosts of his disastrous 2014 tour which saw him average a measly 13.40 with the bat. However, while Kohli the batsman might have conquered his final frontier, his captaincy has left plenty to be desired.
The 3-1 scoreline to England does not entirely reflect how well India and Kohli have fought in the series but at key moments the skipper and the team have been found wanting.
The rub of the green might have gone against the India skipper in all five tosses in the series but that alone has not been responsible for India’s woes. If there is one word to define Kohli’s captaincy for much of the summer, it is ‘reactionary’.
After an unprecedented heat wave in the UK, the signs were there that spinners could play in the first Test at Edgbaston. Still, Kohli resisted the temptation to play two spinners as England went on to claim a narrow victory. India’s sole spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was a threat throughout the match, leaving Kohli to mull over what could have been.
As if to make amends for that slight error in judgment, Kohli went in with win two spinners in the next Test at Lord’s where a green top ensured that India technically folded inside two days with young Kuldeep Yadav’s confidence taking an almighty beating.
In the third Test at Trent Bridge, Ashwin injured himself while attempting a quick single but Kohli still opted to persist with him in the following match at Southampton. That the off-spinner was not fully fit was clear to see from his insipid display even as Moeen Ali spun England to victory with a nine-wicket haul.
Those reactionary decisions have cost India big time but they aren’t the only areas where Kohli’s captaincy has failed. Thrice at least the hosts have fought back from perilous circumstances with their tail coming to the rescue each time. At Edgbaston, they were 87-7 in the second innings with a slim overall lead before Sam Curran (63) performed a heroic rearguard action to take them to 180.
In that innings, Ashwin had been breathing fire with the ball before Curran arrived at the crease but was promptly taken off the attack after the England youngster hit him for a boundary and a six in the same over.
The script was repeated in the fourth Test at the Ageas Bowl with England at 86-6 in the first innings before Curran (78) came to the rescue once again to take them to 246 eventually. In the second innings too, the hosts fought back from 122-5 to post 271 with Curran (46) and Jos Buttler (69) coming to the fore.
In such situations where the tail has bailed England out, one notable aspect of Kohli’s captaincy inadequacies has been his reluctance to bring up the field for the set batsman in the final delivery of the over. That baffling approach has seen the likes of Buttler and Curran prosper by pinching easy singles off the last ball to keep the strike.
In the ongoing final Test at the Oval, the hosts were once again on the ropes in the first innings with their score at 181-7. It was Buttler this time who performed the rescue act with a counter-attacking 89 with Stuart Broad (38) providing him able support. In their partnership too, Kohli bafflingly allowed Buttler to comfortably rotate the strike with his defensive field settings.
For all the aggression that Kohli displays in his batting and in his general on-field demenour, his field placements at times have been anything but.
There will be plenty of questions team India will have to answer when the series eventually draws to a close. One of them definitely needs to be about Kohli’s captaincy.
Dropped unceremoniously from the playing XI in the third Test against England at Trent Bridge, Vijay was dealt another blow when he was axed from the squad for the final two Tests.
It has been a tumultuous few weeks for the opener who arrived on English shores as the most established of the three opening batsmen in the Indian squad.
Times have changed dramatically for the 34-year-old who was India’s top-scorer the last time they played a Test in Trent Bridge. On that occasion in 2014, the right-handed batsman had starred with innings of 146 and 52 in a drawn match.
England wasn’t kind to the Tamil Nadu batsman this time around with scores of 20 and six at Birmingham being followed by a pair at Lord’s.
What makes Vijay’s failures in English conditions difficult to digest is that he is one of the few top-order batsmen whose game is suited for challenging conditions outside Asia.
His innings of 97 at Durban in 2013, his ton at Trent Bridge and a 99 at Adelaide in 2014 had cemented his status as one of India’s better overseas batsmen. But of late, runs outside India have dried up.
That he has been axed from the squad after registering four Test tons in 2017 might seem harsh but his performances away from India have been declining for some time now.
Vijay’s last half-century away from home came all the way back in August, 2015 during India’s tour of Sri Lanka. Since then, India have toured the West Indies and South Africa before arriving for their current engagements in England. It was in the tour of South Africa that Vijay’s problems became acute.
His ability to leave well outside the off-stump had been his biggest strength on previous tours. But, against the Proteas, that assurance was missing as Vijay succumbed to one low score after another. His innings of 25 off 127 balls in Johannesburg was his only solid innings in the entire tour and that diffidence was evident in the two Tests he played against England.
The opener still remains a force in home conditions as his century in the one-off Test against Afghanistan this year showed. But with Dhawan and Rahul being the more aggressive batsmen, it is unlikely that Virat Kohli and the team management will turn to Vijay.
At 34 years of age, time is not Vijay’s friend. India’s next major overseas assignment is against Australia at the end of the year. The last time India toured Australia in 2014-15, Vijay slammed one ton and four half-centuries. This time, chances are he will not even be on the plane unless Dhawan and Rahul fail miserably in the remaining two Tests against the hosts.
Few Indian players have managed to force their way back into the Test side so late in their career. Sourav Ganguly’s return to the side in 2006 following his public run-in with Greg Chappell in the previous year springs to mind but the former India skipper had a lot more going for him than Vijay does currently.
Cheteshwar Pujara also struggled during the tours of South Africa and England but his innings of 72 at Trent Bridge has secured his spot for some time.
Perhaps it is Shaw’s emergence along with Vijay’s age that has convinced Kohli and the selectors to cut the senior opener adrift. For now, it looks like the end of the road for Vijay. It’s up to him to fight his way back.