Hardik Pandya's return a welcome boost but India must tread carefully

Ashish Peter 17/12/2018
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India need to learn from their mishandling of Bhuvneshwar.

India were dealt a huge blow in their ongoing Test battle against Australia with opener Prithvi Shaw being ruled out of the remainder of the series but the visitors were handed some good news in the form of Hardik Pandya’s return to the squad.

The all-rounder has been out of action since September when he sustained a lower back injury in the Asia Cup. But his return for the final two Tests of the series could bring a much needed boost for the tourists.

The lack of an all-round option in the pace department has been felt dearly by India in the Test series, especially in the ongoing Test at Perth. Tempted by the pace and bounce on offer in the pitch, skipper Virat Kohli opted to field a bowling unit comprising entirely of fast bowlers.

With Ravichandran Ashwin being ruled out of the Test due to an injury, Kohli resisted the temptation of having another spinner with Umesh Yadav being given his first game on the tour. Heading into the final day of the Test, the Indian captain will be ruing his decision with Australia’s star off-spinner Nathan Lyon showing his worth on a fast-crumbling pitch.

Despite the assistance for pacers on the pitch, it has been the Aussie off-spinner who has been the pick of all bowlers with a five-wicket haul in the first innings and a further two already in the second.

Had Pandya been available, Kohli could very well have fielded a four-man pace attack with Ravindra Jadeja or Kuldeep Yadav also in the bowling attack.

Pandya can bring some much needed balance in the attack.

Pandya can bring some much needed balance in the attack.

As such, Pandya’s return to the side is a welcome sign for the visitors given the balance it provides. With the pitches in Sydney and Melbourne traditionally being the most spin-friendly tracks in Australia, India will definitely need to field a slower bowler and Pandya’s return could be crucial in that regard.

Pandya’s ability to chip in with handy runs lower down the order will give Kohli a reason to smile. India’s lower-order has failed with the bat so far in the series and Pandya could fill a gaping hole in that aspect.

Pandya showed his all-round worth in his only competitive game so far since his injury return in the Ranji Trophy clash between Baroda and Mumbai. The 25-year-old picked up seven wickets in total including a five-wicket haul while scoring 73 runs with the bat.

India need to learn from their mismanagement of Bhuvneshwar.

India need to learn from their mismanagement of Bhuvneshwar.

However, despite Pandya’s return to the squad, India will need to be wary as to how they handle his fitness. A back injury to a fast-bowler is always a tricky one to manage as India learnt the hard way with Bhuvneshwar Kumar during their summer tour of England.

Rushing Bhuvneshwar back from injury in the ODI series proved costly for Kohli’s men in the end with the seamer being ruled out of the entire Test series.

Pandya has only played one first-class game since returning to full fitness and India will want to ensure they don’t rush him back in haste with the World Cup to come in the summer next year.

Kohli and Co will certainly need to walk a tightrope with Pandya in the next two Tests.

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Failure to tame the tail costs India dear once again

Ashish Peter 17/12/2018
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Wheels starting to come off for Kohli and his men.

A defeat looms large for India in the Perth Test as we head into the final day with the visitors’ hopes hanging by a thread with Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant and a length tail remaining.

The tourists require a monumental effort from a tail which has been considerably weakened by the absence of Ravichandran Ashwin due to injury.

Having overlooked Ravindra Jadeja as a like-for-like replacement for Ashwin, India skipper Virat Kohli has denied his team an extra batting option on a pitch that deteriorated at an alarming rate on day four.

In the first innings, India’s four specialist bowlers were able to contribute just nine runs with the bat. In contrast, Australia’s four bowlers aggregated 34 runs in the first innings and added a further 36 in the second.

India’s problem with the tail is twofold. Their bowlers have struggled to dismiss the tailenders quickly after getting the top order back in pavilion cheaply. At the other end, India’s own tail has failed to pack a punch with the bat in hand and that has hurt them on previous tours of England and South Africa.

This problem was clear to see in the opening Test at Adelaide where India’s 31-run win failed to hide their ‘tail woes’. There, despite reducing the hosts to 127-6 in the first innings, India allowed the Aussie to rack up a 235-run total. of those, 49 were scored by the hosts’ tailenders.

Lyon nearly pulled off a win for Australia in the first Test.

Lyon nearly pulled off a win for Australia in the first Test.

With Ashwin chipping in with 25, India’s tail did manage to score 35 runs in the first innings but could only muster five in the second. Australia’s tail, on the other hand, nearly pulled off an improbable victory for the hosts with a 107-run contribution including 38 from Nathan Lyon as India’s bowlers were made to sweat for the win.

India’s failure to take the sting out of the tail hindered them during the England tour where Sam Curran and the hosts’ long list of bowling all-rounders turned up with match-winning batting contributions.

For all the accolades India’s pace unit has received, they have had their struggles in finishing the job and it is that failure which has left the tourists with a mountain to climb on Tuesday.

Shami and Co have struggled to finish the job.

Shami and Co have struggled to finish the job.

On day four at Perth, India would have fancied their chances with Australia at 198-8 in their second innings. However, like Adelaide, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood once again proved to be a thorn in the flesh as the hosts scored 243.

Those 40-odd runs leaked in the end could be the difference between victory and defeat on the final day of the second Test and India only have themselves to blame.

Apart from Ishant Sharma, not one among Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah inspire any confidence with the bat and all of India’s hopes rest on Vihari and Pant.

If India are to become consistent winners overseas, they will have to sort out their tail woes. Or else, it could quickly become three overseas series defeats on the bounce.

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Virat Kohli seals extraordinary 2018 with another batting masterclass at Perth

Ashish Peter 16/12/2018
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Virat Kohli continues to touch new heights.

Virat Kohli’s celebration as he brought up his 25th Test ton with a sumptuous straight drive off Mitchell Starc at Perth on Sunday said it all.

The India skipper’s gesture of letting his ‘bat do all the talking’ was apt after the stellar 2018 he has enjoyed. Kohli’s 123-run masterclass saw him become the second quickest batsman in Test history to bring up 25 centuries.

The 127 innings taken by the cricketing demigod to attain the mark is second only to the legendary Sir Don Bradman (68) and three better than his India compatriots Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar.

It was the seventh ton registered by Kohli against the opposition and his sixth on Australian soil. Only two visiting batsmen in history have now scored more Test centuries in Australia than the India batsman.

However, more than the incredible statistics of Kohli’s feat, it was the sheer manner in which his innings had been constructed that got the sparse crowd at Perth on its feet.

While his status as an all-time ODI great had been all but cemented already, Kohli’s Test credentials keep touching new heights with each passing series.

In 2018 alone, the India skipper has scored 1,223 runs in 21 innings – ahead of the visitors’ second in Perth – at an average of over 58 with the help of five tons and four half-centuries. What is even more special about those statistics is that 19 of the 21 innings have come away from home.

It has been a year where India’s overseas credentials have been tested to the limit with tours of South Africa, England and Australia. Although the team might have failed to cover itself in glory so far, the skipper has come out with his batting reputation enhanced exponentially with the ‘King Kohli’ tag bestowed on him becoming all the more befitting.

The mind-boggling numbers, however, do not do enough justice to Kohli’s magnificence in 2018. In arguably the three toughest overseas tests available to an Indian batsman, Kohli has played perhaps his three greatest innings in the format.

A landmark year for the India skipper in Test cricket.

A landmark year for the India skipper in Test cricket.

Two of those three tons have ended up in memorable away wins for India. At Centurion in the start of the year, he waged a lone battle with the bat for the tourists with a marathon 153 that was constructed in the most treacherous of conditions.

He then followed up it up with an excellent individual tour of England where he banished the demons of his previously abysmal record in the country with a superlative 149 at Edgbaston.

There would be one more ton for Kohli on that tour but it is his Birmingham innings that will remain permanently etched in the memories of Indian cricket fans given his momentous battle with old nemesis James Anderson.

At Centurion, Edgbaston and now Perth, Kohli has displayed a warrior-like facet previously not seen in his batting. In each of the three innings, he found himself at the receiving end of some hostile and excellent bowling in adverse conditions and each time he found a way to counter the tide and rise above it.

He copped body blow after body blow at Centurion and was lucky to survive Anderson’s assault at Birmingham at times. At Perth, he was given a thorough working over by Pat Cummins in a testy period on day two.

However, each time, Kohli remained undeterred in the face of continuous pressure before coming out triumphant with three sublime innings.

 A true warrior at the crease.

A true warrior at the crease.

Unlike Centurion and Edgbaston, the 29-year-old might even find himself on the losing side at Perth despite his monumental innings but that will not take away anything from his undoubted genius and brilliance.

A fighter at the crease in the truest sense, Kohli is now slowly translating his brilliance to the red-ball format and his No1 ranking and sensational 2018 are a testament to the greatness towards which he is fast ascending.

That he is now entering his ‘peak’ years in the cricketing sense augurs well for India and if 2018 was just a small taste of bigger things to come in the future, cricket fans around the world could be in a for a treat for many more years.

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