India’s English headache

- September 6, 2018
| By : Shaunak Ghosh |

As India slump to another defeat on the grassy pitches of England, here’s a look at what went wrong for Kohli and Co. As the sun set in the Rose Bowl Cricket Stadium in Southampton on September 2, so did the hopes of Virat Kohli and the Indian cricket team after England beat them by […]

India's Dinesh Karthik is bowled by England's Sam Curran for one on the second day of the second Test cricket match between England and India at Lord's Cricket Ground in London on August 10, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Glyn KIRK / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. NO ASSOCIATION WITH DIRECT COMPETITOR OF SPONSOR, PARTNER, OR SUPPLIER OF THE ECB

As India slump to another defeat on the grassy pitches of England, here’s a look at what went wrong for Kohli and Co.

As the sun set in the Rose Bowl Cricket Stadium in Southampton on September 2, so did the hopes of Virat Kohli and the Indian cricket team after England beat them by 60 runs, going 3-1 up in the five-match Test series, thus clinching the Pataudi Trophy with one more match to go.

The hosts were bundled out for a modest 246 runs in their first innings, after they won the toss and elected to bat. In response, riding on Cheteshwar Pujara’s 132, India posted 273, thus attaining 27 run lead on England. A solid spell from India’s pacers led by a 4-wicket haul for Mohammed Shami, the English batsmen were bowled out for 271, thus setting an achievable target of 245 for the visitors. But a batting collapse courtesy a four-fer from Moeen Ali, meant that India could only post 184, putting an end to the dream of a series victory in the queen’s country.

Though India was defeated by the hosts in the first two tests at Edgbaston and Lord’s, Virat Kohli’s men jumped back with a win in Trent Bridge to make the series 2-1. However, the visitors again thumped to defeat in the penultimate test, in spite of being ranked the no.1 Test side in the world.

Top order woes
One of the major reasons why India faltered in the series is the serious failure of the top order. The openers have failed to amass runs owing to the swinging conditions in England, and the lethal in-swingers from Stuart Broad and James Anderson. KL Rahul, who many consider as a genuine talent who shines in all three formats of the game, has faltered consistently, amassing only 113 runs in his eight innings, with a highest of 36. Shikhar Dhawan, on the other hand, in spite of a well-made 44 in the second Test, has accumulated only 158 runs in his six innings. Murali Vijay has suffered a recent slump in form, excluding that century against minnows Afghanistan, and was chopped from the squad after the first two tests, where he managed to score only 26 runs in his four innings, managing to cross the double figure mark only once. In fact, the openers have only managed to get a 50+ partnership only once in eight innings. This is not a sign of a really dominating team, who are supposed to be the best Test side in the world. To amass a lot of runs, the team needs a really solid start, and the openers completely faltered in this series

Not enough runs for lower order
The major difference between the Indian and the English teams in this series has been the performance of the lower order and the tail.While Jos Butler, who comes in at no. 6 and Chris Woakes, who usually comes in a no. 7 have scored a century each, with Butler being the top scorer for the England with 260 runs in the series. But the surprise package came from tail-ender Sam Curran, who amassed an impressive 251 runs from five innings, with three half-centuries, and a top score of 78. On the other hand, the lower order of India, comprising of the likes of Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik, Rishabh Pant and Ravichandran Ashwin, have just a solitary half century by Hardik Pandya. With the dismissal of Ajinkya Rahane in every innings, India’s batting weaknesses were exposed, and they were fully exploited by the swing of Anderson and Broad, and the web of spin of Moeen Ali. Perhaps, selecting Rohit Sharma, could have provided stability to the no. 6 position, as he has got the technique to see balls through and not rush for quick runs and get out, like the likes of Pandya and Pant have. For the no. 7 position though, India still has to find a replacement for MS Dhoni. Even though Ashwin has scored plenty of runs at home, he is still to prove his worth overseas.

Too dependent on Kohli?
Virat Kohli, in his usual self, has scored a mammoth 544 runs in eight innings, with two centuries and three fifties including a 97 in the third test. He thus became the first Indian batsman to score 500 runs in an overseas series. The other batsman, however, have failed to score runs, with only Rahane and Pujara crossing the 200-run barrier. The captain has scored more than one-third of the total number of runs scored by the Indian team in this series. It is not possible for a team to do well if it is too dependent on only one man. The whole team has to take up the mantle — they did show glimpses in the victorious third test — if they want to succeed and perform well in overseas conditions.
In contrast, the captain Kohli has taken certain questionable decisions, like dropping a dependable Cheteshwar Pujara in the first test. He also did not let Ishant Sharma, the most successful Indian bowler in this series, bowl a single ball in the first session of the second innings of the third test. Also, not playing a much experienced Diniesh Karthik and depending on a young, and sometimes brash, Rishabh Pant, may have been another mistake.

Faltering on the cusp of victory
The biggest drawback for the Indian team has always been their failure to snatch victory, when it is close by. Barring the second test, India lost by very narrow margins. In the second test, while chasing a paltry 194 for victory, India were all out for 162. In the fourth test against India were bundled out for 184 while chasing only 245 for victory. The team just lacks the confidence to cross the finish line, as Virat Kohli even admitted in his post-match press conference.

The silver lining
Among the many negatives of the batting order, it was the bowling that surprisingly stole the show in England. The pacers made extremely good use of the seaming and swinging conditions, as they restricted England to scores of less than 300, six times out of the eight innings in the series. Ishant Sharma was the highest wicket taker for India with 15 wickets, that includes a five-wicket haul. Both Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah have taken 14 wickets each, that includes a five-for by Bumrah. Even Hardik Pandya chipped in with 10 wickets, including a 5-wicket haul. In fact Ashwin, who has been India’s go-to bowler for the past couple of years, has been the least effective among all the bowlers, even though he has taken 11 wickets.

All in all, it was a disappointing series defeat for India. Surprisingly, it was the batting rather than the bowling that was the weak link for the squad. However, India still has the chance to make the series a respectable 3-2 if they win the last Test. For a side that many consider the most dominant in world cricket right now, Kohli’s men need to take charge and clinch series wins away from home. Only then will the team will be equated on the same weighing scale as that of Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting’s Australia or Clive Lloyd’s West Indies teams.

Otherwise, this team will also hold the same reputation as the other Indian sides of the past — tigers at home, but scared cats overseas.