For the third consecutive overseas Test, India have failed to defend a fourth innings total and this time, at Edgbaston, they had 378 runs to play with. The series ended 2-2, but this would feel like a loss for India, as they were in an out-and-out winning position in this game and let it slip in the fourth innings. The batting brilliance of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow notwithstanding, it was a failure of the bowling unit, while the visitors erred in their tactics as well.
A second innings batting implosion, too, heavily contributed to the defeat, when India had the opportunity to slam the door shut on the hosts.
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Last November, Rahul Dravid took over the reins of the world’s best Test team from Ravi Shastri that was fresh from a memorable series win in Australia and was leading 2-1 in England after four matches. A series defeat in South Africa against a young Proteas side and the loss at Edgbaston mark a patchy beginning for Dravid.
Where did India go wrong at Edgbaston?
The tourists had a 132-run first innings lead and on a third day and fourth day pitch, they had the opportunity to bat England out of the contest. But a middle-order collapse on Day Four, when they lost seven wickets for 92 runs, put paid to that hope. An hour of Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant on the fourth morning would have taken the game away from England. But Shreyas was a jumping jack against the short ball and his dismissal brought England back into the game. His uneasiness also created doubts among the batsmen who followed. Suddenly, England started to believe, softened up the Indian lower-order with the short ball before polishing it off. What could have been 475 as England’s fourth innings target, came down to 378.
Little wonder then that India’s batting coach Vikram Rathour called the team’s second innings batting performance ordinary. “I will agree that we had a pretty ordinary day as far as batting is concerned. We were ahead in the game. We were in a position where we really could have batted them out of the game. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen,” Rathour said at the post-day press conference, adding: “Yes, they used a short-ball plan against us in the field. We had to show a little better, not intent, but strategy. We could have handled it slightly differently.”
Bowling-wise, India made in-roads after the ball was changed in the 21st over. But tactically they erred during the match-winning partnership between Root and Bairstow.
Using Ravindra Jadeja from over the wicket right from the outset reeked of a negative mindset, in sharp contrast to in-your-face aggression of the Kohli-Shastri era. There was a rough outside the right-hander’s leg stump and Jadeja wasn’t accurate enough to land the ball in that area consistently. Also, Root never allowed the left-arm spinner to get into the groove. He played him by opening up the off side and going with the turn before bringing out the paddle sweep and reverse sweep to completely upset the bowler’s rhythm. “Root is the best player in the world against spin. Between (Virat) Kohli, (Steve) Smith, (Kane) Williamson and Root, he is the best,” Shastri said on air.
For a change, Jadeja could have been used as an attacking option from around the wicket. But tactical sharpness from the think-tank was missing.
Also, as soon as Bairstow joined Root, the field was spread out, allowing the two batsmen to take singles at ease. England were never going to shun Bazball. They chased down 290-plus fourth innings targets against New Zealand as well. But India, with a more well-rounded bowling attack, should have shown the courage to keep the field up and challenge the batsmen to go over the top.
The line that the Indian fast bowlers stuck to against Bairstow was one-dimensional. The latter has his weakness against the incoming delivery, but Jasprit Bumrah, in his first Test as captain, made things predictable for the batsman, with the seamers bowling into the stumps and having five fielders on the leg side. Rarely did the bowlers bowl at the conventional outside the off stump Test match line. It didn’t augur well for the tourists.
The South Africa story
Batting proved to be India’s bugbear in South Africa also, at Johannesburg and Cape Town. At Cape Town, their weakness against aggressive short-pitch bowling was yet again exposed, with Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Mohammed Shami and Bumrah falling to that type of delivery in the second innings.
Unlike Edgbaston, the matches in South Africa were low-scoring affairs. And yet, Indian bowling seemingly lost the plot in back-to-back defeats, when South African batsmen were stitching up decent partnerships. They suffered from a lack of patience and tried too many things, leaking runs in the process. “Thoda patience rakhna chahiye (we need to be patient),” stump mic picked up Rishabh Pant telling his team-mates during the fourth day’s play at Edgbaston. The golden rule for India under the erstwhile management was to make the opposition batsmen work for their runs.
The instruction was clear – if a batsman scores a century, he must face at least 200 balls. At Cape Town, where South Africa chased down 212 to win by seven wickets, the young Keegan Petersen scored 82 runs at a strike rate of 72-plus. At Edgbaston, Bairstow scored 106 in the first innings off 140 balls and 114 at the second dig in 145 deliveries. Root’s 142 in the second innings came off 173 balls.
Also, and very importantly, India missed their best batsman, Rohit Sharma, in all three Tests.