Victors en route
After an outstanding display in the Test series, the Indian juggernaut is all set to switch to limited-overs cricket with major events lined up later this year
Who said Test cricket is dying? It is very much alive. Gone are the days when Test matches were played on flat batting pitches and it was difficult to complete two innings from each side and invariably matches headed for a tame draw. Now the pitches are prepared in such a way that bowlers have an equal chance of exploiting pitches as their batsmen and we have been witnessing results in Test matches all over the world, most of the time.
India commanded the entire series barring the first Test at Chennai and thereby extended the record to 13 consecutive Test series win at home.
Indian spinners' dominance
Ashwin with his seasoned performance has taken Test cricket like a duck to water. He is the only bowler to capture 30+ wickets in a Test series twice. In his Test career, he now has taken five-wicket hauls 30 times! His MOS awards - eight times (including this series) is only next to Muttiah Muralitharan (11) and Jacques Kallis (9). Axar Patel equalled Dilip Doshi's record with a tally of 27 wickets, the most by a debutant bowler for India in a Test series. Doshi had taken six Tests to achieve this feat whereas it took only three Tests for Axar. Out of 80 English wickets in the four Tests, the Ashwin-Axar duo alone spun a web around 59 wickets. Shahbaz Nadeem had four scalps, two for Kuldeep and a solitary wicket for Sundar. 66 of the 80 wickets were taken by spinners — that's how dominating has been the Indian spinners.
Mantra to thrive
India is the land of spin and to emerge as champions on spinning tracks, batsmen have to use good techniques like taking off-stump guard and try to play off-breaks outside the line of the off-stump to take LBW out of the equation against spinning balls. Incidentally, batsmen have been declared out LBW 25 times in the series. Batsmen have to use their feet to smother the spinning ball and also use the back foot game allowing a bit of extra time to adjust to the turn and bounce of the pitches. Because of playing too much limited-overs cricket, especially on flat pitches, the present generation of cricketers, with relatively less defensive techniques, forgot to cope with the grinding aspect of Tests. The success mantra to thrive on turning tracks is to have good defensive technique, concentrating hard while batting, give respect to bowlers during the initial period until accustomed to the conditions, keep the scoreboard ticking and wait for bad balls. Once they settle and come to the terms of the pitch, they can accelerate their innings to set up big scores. Putting one's head down and having patience, especially in the initial period, is the most requisite formula to excel in Test cricket.
Virat Kohli has the distinction of achieving victory in 36 matches out of 60 Test matches as captain. Virat went on to record his tenth straight series win at home as captain and in the process equalled Ricky Ponting's record. With 23 Test victories to his credit at home, Kohli surpassed Steve Waugh's record. It has been a while since Virat has taken his helmet off and raised his bat after scoring a century, but as long as the Indian team is on the victory path, he doesn't mind missing that. By routing Joe Root's England 3-1, even after losing the toss in three out of four test matches, it is quite evident the amount of talent current Indian captain possesses and more importantly exhibits it at the right time. In the process, the Indian team stormed to the top position in the World Test Championship (WTC) rankings table. The WTC journey started in July 2019 and Kohli & Co is set to face one last dance in England in June, against the Kiwis in the finals at Ageas Bowl in Southampton, United Kingdom.
For a team that lost 0-2 against Kiwis last year had a nightmarish experience of 36 all out in the pink ball Test match against the mighty Aussies, booking a berth in the final of the WTC tournament is a phenomenal achievement. India came back after losing the first Test match. It was a testimony to their character, grit and determination. When the going got tough, Indian players got going. It is of no exaggeration that the current Indian team, with so much bench strength, can easily field two Test teams at the international level. The reason for the England team's poor performance in the current series is too much reliance on their pace attack on spinner friendly wickets, the below-par performance of their spinners, their rotation policy of its players etc. For some players like Cheteshwar Pujara and Ishant Sharma, who are Test match specialists, winning WTC finals is just like winning the limited-overs World Cup and rightly so.
The positives for India in this series is the batting brilliance of Rohit Sharma as one of the reliable opening batsmen, Ashwin as India's specialist all-rounder, Washington Sundar as dependable lower middle-order batsmen and Axar Patel as one of the promising prospects. Rishabh Pant's performance in front of the stumps by unsettling the bowlers with his batting style along with his improved glovework behind the stumps has also answered many questions. Axar Patel's three fifers in three consecutive Test matches has almost made us forget that he was in because of an injury-hit Ravindra Jadeja.
The Indian team has proved that irrespective of conditions, home or away, pink or red ball and whoever be the captain of the ship, they have fought against adversity in adverse conditions to clinch victories. Indian Team came out with flying colours despite its premier batsmen Virat Kohli, Cheteswar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane being unable to pile runs.
This series yet again pointed out that nobody should take their place as granted in the Indian team, with so much talent waiting in the wings in the form of bench strength. The management will now have a problem of plenty of selecting players for WTC finals when all the players including the likes of Pandya and Jadeja are available, free from injuries. Now it is up to the team's think-tank and BCCI to keep them in good spirits even if some of them are not picked for the matches.
Tests vs limited-overs cricket
Limited overs cricket is like a lottery, the performance on that particular day matters whereas Test cricket is like beautiful ancient structures where hidden talent and techniques of players are completely thrown open to the fore. Limited-overs cricket is like MCQs whereas Test cricket is like long answer questions. You can get success even by fluke in the former whereas in the latter one can excel only if one has technique and talent. Some people judge limited-overs cricket as fertile lands and Test cricket as barren fields. But results of Test matches, all over the world, indicate Test cricket is still as absorbing and productive as limited-overs cricket.
Now the picture is going to change from absorbing Test match cricket to action-packed limited-overs cricket against the English team in the forthcoming weeks. There will be see-saw changes in the team's composition for limited-overs cricket with the inclusion of players like KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, Hardik Pandya, Chahal, Bhuvneshwar Kumar etc. With this bundle of talent, rearing to go in the shorter format of the game, the Indian team starts its quest in limited-overs cricket en route to their preparations for Asia Cup and T20 World Cup, to be held later this year.
Views expressed are personal