India vs England: Virat Kohli and co. must step up and set good totals for bowlers

History shows that the three series won by India in England have come essentially through splendid bowling efforts, writes Ayaz Memon.

cricket Updated: Jul 26, 2018 12:54 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
India vs England,Indian cricket team,England cricket team
Going into the Test series vs. England, it is the batting which appears more vulnerable. (BCCI)

India’s squad for the first three Test against England has 18 members; 19 if Bhuvneshwar Kumar passes the fitness Test! Has there been any other occasion when so many players were named for a tour? I’ve been jogging my memory furiously but was left scratching my head. (IND v ENG full coverage)

In days past, host countries kept a ceiling on the number of players in a visiting side, usually 16.

Times have changed. Now visiting teams can carry extra players if they can afford to do so. With BCCI coffers overflowing, money is hardly an issue. Whatever it takes to win must be done.

Fair enough. But it does raise questions about the level of confidence in the players – not forgetting the pressure on them -- if there are going to be back-ups for back-ups.

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I’d be loath to suggest panic, but this does reflect certain amount of apprehension that a carefully prepared gameplan has gone somewhat awry, and that a new one is yet to be formalised.

History shows that the three series won by India in England have come essentially through splendid bowling efforts: Chandrashekhar in 1971, Chetan Sharma, Kapil Dev, Maninder Singh in 1986, Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble in 2007.

At the core of the plan devised for this tour – over a year and more -- was making up a bowling attack that could take 20 wickets consistently, with pace bowlers the key. This has undoubtedly suffered a setback through injuries to Bumrah and Bhuvaneshwar.

One can’t blame the team management or selectors for this situation. The predicament arose through misfortune. Yet, India’s bowling even in the absence of these two is not the main worry.

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Umesh, Shami, Ishant, Pandya, Thakur, Ashwin, Jadeja and Kuldeep provide depth, skill and variety to choose from in pace and spin.

It is the batting which appears more vulnerable. The original gameplan was predicated on the belief that the top order was rich in talent, and now experienced enough to provide the runs needed by bowlers to succeed in England. The ODI series has exposed chinks.

While MS Dhoni copped most of the blame for India’s poor show, others – barring Virat Kohli who played superbly right through – impressed only sporadically. In fact, the inconsistency of Rohit, Dhawan, Rahul and Raina was a bigger factor in India’s stumble than a struggling Dhoni.

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It is pertinent to remember that on the last two tours, India were routed 0-4 (2011) and 1-3 (2014) essentially because batsmen – several of them formidable names -- floundered against the swing and seam of Anderson and Broad. Thwarting them is the big challenge this time too.

Between them, Anderson (540) and Broad (417) have 917 wickets. Of these, 603 (Anderson 344, Broad 259) have come in England. Even though they are nearing the end of their careers -- and this promises to be a warm summer which may not be of much assistance-- their skill and experience pose a severe test.

India’s top order batsmen are exciting and accomplished, but their best has come in the sub-continent. In England particularly, these same players – including Kohli – have struggled. Their form leading into the Tests this time doesn’t appear all that robust.

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Of course, ambition and motivation can’t be underestimated. Pressure can bring out the best in players. Kohli for one, has been mentally preparing for this tour for long. He has a point to prove to the world, and perhaps more importantly to himself. Likewise others.

But clearly the main batsmen need to find rhythm early and runs consistently -- less than 350 in an innings would be below par -- for India to win. As the 2011 and 2014 series’ showed, if this does not happen, things start to go downhill rapidly. Then, even a 19-member squad would appear meagre!

First Published: Jul 26, 2018 12:48 IST