India vs England: Decline in India's batting standards gives sleepless nights | Cricket - Hindustan Times

India vs England 2nd Test: Decline in India's batting standards gives sleepless nights

By, Visakhapatnam
Feb 05, 2024 06:41 AM IST

Once again, India missed out on the chance to bat Englandout of the game after getting 255 all out in the second innings of the Visakhapatnam Test.

It’s a sign of the surreal times we live in that even 398 doesn’t feel tall enough as a fourth innings target. And for good reason.

India's captain Rohit Sharma gestures as he walks back to the pavilion after his dismissal during Day 3.(AFP)
India's captain Rohit Sharma gestures as he walks back to the pavilion after his dismissal during Day 3.(AFP)

But if you put England’s maverick brand of cricket on the backburner and focus solely on India’s batting, the decline can’t go unnoticed. Starts aren’t being converted, hundreds haven’t been consolidated and big partnerships haven’t been raised enough. In four innings against England, India have crossed 400 once with the highest partnership so far being only 90 between Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer. And though India have more hundreds than England, Gill knows Sunday’s effort was far from his best.

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Moreover, it came on a day India failed to bat England out of the game when they had the opportunity. Hyderabad felt like a chance missed when India couldn’t bat once after dismissing England for 236. And now here, when all they had to do was see out James Anderson and then pick apart an inexperienced spin attack, India once again floundered to be dismissed for 255 on a pitch with no demons in it. This when they had three days to ensure Hyderabad’s mistake wasn’t repeated.

The root of this problem seems to be India’s inability to score big at the start. Between 2014 and 2019, India had scored six 600-plus totals in the first and second innings at home. In the last five years, that has gone down to just one. This, like on Sunday, is bound to affect India’s attitude the second time they come out.

Anderson too believes India's thinking was muddled. “I think the nerves were there to see today, the way they batted; I think they didn’t know how many was enough,” he said after the close of play on Day 3. “They were quite cautious, even when they had a big lead.”

The only reason India seemed to be on guard despite sitting on a 143-run first innings lead was probably they aren’t sure about their Test batting potential. That’s not unexpected when Virat Kohli and KL Rahul aren’t available. But by allowing that to mess with the batting philosophy, India have shown they can be manipulated.

Like how they took to reverse sweeps after England schooled their spinners at Hyderabad. So skilled is the classically raised Indian batter at scoring off traditional shots that sweeps never felt necessary. Yet Gill walked into a well-laid trap on Sunday, gifting his wicket when he should have focused on consolidating after his hundred like Yashasvi Jaiswal did in the first innings.

He admitted that. “I saw the point fielder go there and thought on that wicket it was a percentage shot but maybe not in that situation when there were five-six overs to tea,” said Gill. “Maybe I should've just played those overs and got the runs after tea.”

Rohit Sharma is another case in point. Notwithstanding the exhilarating dismissal effected by Anderson on Sunday, Sharma is trying too hard to play batting mentor in the absence of Kohli and Rahul when clearly the attacking role suits him much better. It paid huge dividends in the World Cup, and even in this format India can do with a few quick starts if they aim to give England a run for their money. The bigger issue is how India haven’t been able to convince themselves the benefit of batting as long as possible and keeping England on tenterhooks. Instead, they seemed committed to finding a target for England, making it easier for them to pick a fight.

“The chat last night from the coach was that if they get 600, we were going to go for it,” said Anderson. “It makes it very clear to everyone that we will try to do it tomorrow. I know there are 180 overs left in the game, but we will try to do it in 60 or 70. That’s the way we play.”

Fair enough. But had India played their way, England wouldn’t have got to this position to express themselves. What could have been turned into a slow defeat is now simmering with the possibility of an entertaining chase.

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    Somshuvra Laha is a sports journalist with over 11 years' experience writing on cricket, football and other sports. He has covered the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, the 2016 ICC World Twenty20, cricket tours of South Africa, West Indies and Bangladesh and the 2010 Commonwealth Games for Hindustan Times.

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