The focus has shifted very quickly to the limited-overs format, with India winning the three-match T20I series over England, and for many it will be as if the crushing Test defeat at Edgbaston was just a passing blip. But the question remains: after dominating England for three days, after scoring over 400 and then taking a lead of 132, how did India meekly surrender a series lead?
Here are some answers.
AN UNRESPONSIVE PITCH
A true Test wicket usually deteriorates towards the last few days. The Edgbaston Test was anything but that. It was a batting paradise. It seemed to augur well with the aggressive approach that the England team has come up with chasing totals in Test cricket this summer.
Let’s be honest; it’s the pitch and form of certain players that has helped England play in the manner. However, if you look at it from an Indian perspective, India would have preferred a pitch that assists fast bowlers. It couldn’t have been said a decade ago, but today it is the Indian team that needs a bowler-friendly pitch. More than their bowlers, it is more in order to make it difficult for the opposition batsmen to post a big total. Team scores in the range 200-300 are the kind of games that India have done well in. Rarely have India gone beyond that in recent times. No one bailed out the ever failing top order in the second innings to help put a big total on an unresponsive pitch, where bowlers found it difficult.
AN UNDERPERFORMING TOP ORDER
Since 2020, India have crossed 400 only three times. This is largely because someone in the lower order has scored big. A team cannot make big scores consistently only relying on the lower order to do well. The top order needs to fire. Occasionally Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Shubman Gill and Mayank Agarwal came good at the opening slot, but, it has been the middle order which has consistently underperformed. For a long time now, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane – who formed the core of the middle order – haven’t been doing well.
The last centuries from Pujara and Kohli came in 2019. Rahane scored one in the 2021 Australia series, but having struggled since then he was dropped earlier this year. The likes of Shreyas Iyer and Hanuma Vihari haven’t been given a long run at a definite batting position, and this perennial problem of lack of runs from the top order cannot help in making big scores consistently. This unfolded at Edgbaston too, where the top order didn’t perform in the game like in so many series in the recent past.
SOME WAYWARD BOWLING
Even if the batsmen did poorly, it was the bowling that helped the team to bowl the opposition out and pave a way for an Indian victory. Not in this case, where Shardul Thakur and Mohammed Siraj had a poor game. Far from being any threatening, they struggled the whole game with stray balls all over. The pitch didn’t assist either. Ravindra Jadeja hardly looked potent but he played more for his batting. Also, once again, R Ashwin didn’t find a place in the team.
Ashwin has shown in Australia that he has other weapons in his armour to pick wickets, even if the pitch doesn’t aid spin. To leave out a bonafide legend, ranked No 2 by the ICC as a bowler and allrounder, and one with over 450 Test wickets, was a mistake.
A NEW CAPTAIN
In a series-deciding Test match, was it a wise idea to give Jasprit Bumrah his first game as captain? Ever since Kohli left captaincy, it has been a Russian Roulette of captains. Over the last year, India have had seven captains across all formats. Yes, there was Covid-19, players needed rest and there were some injuries. Curiously enough, at the time of the IPL everyone is fit and nobody misses a single game.
Bumrah’s lack of experience as a captain was visible. England’s batting was allowed to get away with easy runs allowing frequent rotation of batting, especially in the second innings when easy singles were on offer. Bowling changes didn’t inspire either, for the bowlers struggled all throughout. The body language of the players on the field fell quickly in the second innings. Even DRS reviews lacked confidence, as India lost too reviews far quickly.
Another important factor was the catching. India had many different names in the slip cordon – Gill, Kohli, Pujara, Vihari and Iyer, to name a few. The slips are a specialist position that require hours of concentration, practice and anticipation. The frequent rotation of slips hurt India. To watch big gaps between catchers and fielders hanging back was strange, and thus it was no surprise when several edges ended up falling short or went through vacant spaces. Vihari (wrongly placed at a fly slip position), Kohli, Shardul, Bumrah and Rishabh Pant all put down chances. With so many dropped catches against a good team, it is difficult to recover. Vihari dropping Jonny Bairstow in the second innings might have cost India the Test match.
POOR PREPARATION AND PRACTICE
Field placings, bowling changes, line and lengths, batting form, technical glitches and adjustment to conditions are all ironed out in practice games. Only a single practice game before the final Test didn’t help the Indian cricket team. What was even worse, it was played with literally no rules. There were 13 players per side, with Indian cricketers playing for both teams. Some of them batted twice in one innings? Was it a match or an open net session?
The official reason given was that some players were coming out of Covid and were advised not to play an intense game. The fact is, this has been the case since MS Dhoni’s captaincy, when these tour games were repeatedly given less importance. But this one was a mockery of cricket. Even children playing in the streets have more rules. India lost good practice.
THE KOHLI FACTOR
And finally, to the poster boy of Indian cricket, Kohli. There is no doubt at all that the lack of runs from the big man has cost him and the team a lot. Kohli is the kind of player who if he gets going, it deflates the opposition. The opposite is also quite true, that his wicket gives the opposition bowlers a high. Over-committing to the front foot has been Kohli’s problem and in both innings he got starts and failed to convert, once again falling into old habits. Too many games missed due to rest is not helping Kohli’s return to form either.
On the field, he still wants to be in the thick of things. The verbal duel that Kohli had with an in-form Bairstow when the Englishman was struggling during the first innings only triggered the leading run-getter of 2022 to get more focused and play a great knock. It was very reminiscent of what happened between Andrew Flintoff and Yuvraj Sigh back in the 2007 World T20.
May be this was an outcome of Kohli dropping a catch a couple of overs before, but it does feel like sometimes his lack of runs, dropped catches and unnecessary verbal spats with the opposition is just the outcome of him unable to mentally let go off the lost captaincy. The sooner that Kohli comes out of it, the sooner it will do him good and also Indian cricket.