How Good Is India’s Preparation For The Ultimate Test Against England?
India’s underperforming top-order remains a concern ahead of Edgbaston Test
There was a palpable sense of repetition to whatever unfolded on the first two days at Grace Road, where India is locked in a four-day duel with Leicestershire. With the already crunched schedule ruling out the possibility of proper practice sessions, India had to send four of their own players to another side of the fence, just so that they could get a hang of the conditions. The rescheduled Test begins next month, and even though a year is a long time in cricket, the most decisive turn of this series will be taken through the known, predictable routes.
They say nothing happens in Test cricket for the first time. Most of the things that appear new are nothing but just a basic repetition of the past, with few alterations here and there. The first two days of the action were a perfect reminder of this, as well-known vulnerabilities of Indian batters came to the fore once again. Other than KS Bharat’s resistance, much of the innings looked like a mere extension of the last tour.
There was nothing new about Rohit Sharma getting out playing his favourite pull shot. We have seen this on several occasions when India toured here last time. The 2-1 lead that is tipping in India’s favour was largely built on the newfound stoicism of Rohit Sharma, whose serene approach surprised everyone. But throughout the tour, the English bowlers kept testing him with short-pitched bowling, and to everyone’s surprise, Rohit, arguably the greatest puller and hooker, kept gifting away his wicket. On Thursday though, it was not even a well-directed ball, rising to his chest or neck, but he still managed to hole out to a man at mid-wicket. Roman Walker, who is yet to make a debut for even his club, prised out Rohit’s wicket.
Jasprit Bumrah didn’t get much opportunity to bowl, throwing out just nine overs. His bowling against Rohit Sharma is perhaps what paybacks are made of. You wake up and find your most vicious weapon pointing at your head. Overall, Bumrah looked sharp, and there’s not much to worry about there. India must be pleased with how Prasidh Krishna fared on Day 1. He was nippy and extracted good bounce from the surface. While Krishna is unlikely to get a chance here, a key takeaway for the team management would be to keep him always in contention for the overseas Test tour.
To his dismay, the sight of him getting clobbered over fine leg by Virat Kohli has got more traction than the tight spells he bowled. Faced with a rising delivery, Kohli got into the position quickly and dispatched the ball into the stands. A glimpse of that Classic Kohli that the whole world has sorely missed in the last two years. Other than this hook and one sumptuous cover drive, Kohli didn’t look at ease, especially in the beginning where he looked unsure of his off-stump. But after early flutterings, the shots were coming through the middle of his bat. He was hard done in the end, getting out to a fullish delivery that was bound to miss the off stump.
If the ongoing series between England and New Zealand is anything to go by, the hosts have prioritised preparing a surface that allows a more balanced competition between bat and ball. The first three games between India and England have been won or lost by how the bowlers fared for each side.
The opening combination of KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma proved to be a big difference, as they managed to survive the tricky early hours’ phase more often than not. This time Shubman Gill will have to shoulder the responsibility in the absence of KL Rahul. On Wednesday, Gill got out while flirting with the ball he could have easily left. It felt like Gill would have to change his initial stance – standing on the leg stump – to save himself from such cheap dismissals. Another option if he wants to continue taking the leg stump guard is to ensure that his trigger movement doesn’t take him far and across the off stump. Again, there was nothing new about his dismissal. A dominant player on the back foot, Shubman was seen struggling to commit himself to the front foot, giving easy catches to a group of men prowling behind him.
Fast forward to Day 2, Cheteshwar Pujara, back in the team after a prolific County Season with Sussex, played five balls before his stumps were set in motion by Mohammed Shami.
Mohammed Siraj conceded 26 runs in his first five overs but also prised out a couple of wickets. Again, we have seen this script. Siraj is not your average line-and-length bowler. If you want control, go to Bumrah and Shami. Siraj loves playing the role of enforcer, and at times, he attacks even when there’s no need for it. But the over-the-top aggression has worked so well for Siraj. There’s no reason to tone it down.
The batting unit primed to play in Edgbaston has failed to convince. In fact, KS Bharath, the batter who impressed the most is unlikely to force his way into the side. The player for whom he is a natural replacement is Rishabh Pant, who, at this point, is indispensable.
(Featured Image Source: BCCI)