India's conundrum: Task cut out for Rohit, Dravid and Co. after Hyderabad shock | Cricket - Hindustan Times

India's conundrum: Task cut out for Rohit, Dravid and Co. ahead of 2nd Test after Hyderabad shock

Jan 29, 2024 12:16 PM IST

The Indian think-tank must come up with concrete plans to keep England’s attack-minded batters quiet and to negotiate the visitors' spin threat.

As the clock ticked over to 5.30 pm on Sunday and local lad Mohammed Siraj was stumped charging debutant Tom Hartley, India slumped to only their fourth defeat in their last 48 home Tests. There's no shame in that, many might say. Just four losses in more than a decade isn't cause for concern, they might insist.

Skipper Ben Stokes has instilled a sense of pride in the England team in adhering to their uncompromising style of play.(ANI )
Skipper Ben Stokes has instilled a sense of pride in the England team in adhering to their uncompromising style of play.(ANI )

But it is, make no mistake.

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Having dominated the first two days of the first Test against England, India found ways to court disaster, allowing themselves to be comprehensively outplayed by an outfit that, for all its feisty show of character, should not have got even a toehold.

England’s 28-run heist will be held as a shining example of the success of ‘Bazball’, especially once Ollie Pope swept and reverse-swept to a monumental 196 in the third innings. Both Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid called it the finest exhibition of those high-risk strokes in a Test in India, but the captain and the head coach respectively must ruminate on their tactics and wonder how the right-hander was able to play those shots so often for so long with such impact.

By letting England post 420 in their second innings, India’s spinners let themselves down. At various stages on the third evening and the fourth morning, they seemed resigned to their fate, the in-out fields stopping neither the frustrating flow of singles nor the more damaging boundaries that even Nos. 8 and 9, Rehan Ahmed and Hartley respectively, uncorked nonchalantly.

A target of 231 meant India’s chase wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but the complete lack of application and the unwillingness to use their feet against Hartley, the left-arm spinner, and off-spinner Joe Root reconfirmed the long-held belief that India can no longer lay claim to possessing the best players of the turning ball.

In the four days between Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam, where the second Test starts on Friday, the think-tank must come up with concrete plans to keep England’s attack-minded batters quiet as well as to negotiate the English spin threat with greater composure and confidence.

One thing is certain. If India don’t pull up their socks and unearth meaningful game plans, they are in for a long, hard grind over the next six weeks. This England side won’t die wondering. Skipper Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum have instilled a sense of pride in adhering to their uncompromising style of play. It’s a style that has won them fans and matches – they have 14 victories in their last 19 Tests – and they will look at Hyderabad as further vindication of the veracity of their tactics. It’s up to India to prevent them from executing their plans to perfection, which means their own execution must be up to scratch because otherwise, they will be ruthlessly punished.

Disappointingly, India’s spinners failed to make England’s batters sweep from the stumps, and from a length that would have brought more mishits and top-edges into play. Not attacking the stumps often enough meant the danger of leg-before and bowled was immediately negated; by being too full, they offered the luxury of either getting on top of the ball and keeping the horizontal-bat strokes down or going the whole hog and hitting powerfully in the air in sparsely populated areas in the outfield. That Jasprit Bumrah, the wonderful pace exponent at the peak of his prowess and close to being the best quick in the world right now, completely outshone his spinning colleagues in conditions that suited the latter’s craft has to be the most damning indictment of R Ashwin, who boasts 496 Test scalps, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel.

It won’t be out of place for these bowlers to cast an eye on the opposition and see how Hartley, Root and the injured Jack Leach went about their business. The English spinners showed that limitations can be used to one’s advantage; there is a lesson in that which must not be ignored, because variety need not always be the spice of life.

Of greater worry – the second-innings bowling can still be viewed as a one-off for now – is the increasing string of failures being stacked up by Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer. Assuming Virat Kohli is back as expected for the third Test, one of these two will certainly miss out. Gill was subdued and tentative in the first innings and went second ball in the second, while Iyer hardly looked like the accomplished player of spin he is reputed to be. India’s batting at home in recent years has been systemically underwhelming, Sunday in Uppal the latest example of a more-than-slightly alarming trend.

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