In Ashwin’s absence, India’s next-gen steps up to bring Bazball to a halt | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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In Ashwin’s absence, India’s next-gen steps up to bring Bazball to a screeching halt

Feb 17, 2024 06:12 PM IST

India maintained relentless pressure, refusing refreshingly to be sucked into England’s brand of play

India have enjoyed outstanding days of Test cricket on home patch previously too. Few have been as impressive, or satisfying, as the one fashioned in Rajkot on Saturday.

India's Mohammed Siraj, right, leaves the field with Jasprit Bumrah, second right, and other teammates at the end of England's first innings in Rajkot(AP)
India's Mohammed Siraj, right, leaves the field with Jasprit Bumrah, second right, and other teammates at the end of England's first innings in Rajkot(AP)

Despite posting 445 in the first innings of the third Test, India were under the pump by close of day two. Rocked by Ben Duckett’s fierce onslaught on Friday evening when the England opener disdainfully dispatched the cherry from his presence, India looked bereft of ideas and imagination, Rohit Sharma as shell-shocked as the rest. England’s second-day tally of 207 for two, in just 35 overs, had left the Test in the balance.

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As if that wasn’t dispiriting enough, India would have to make do without the services of R Ashwin when battle resumed at the Niranjan Shah Stadium on the moving day. Within hours of becoming the latest entrant to the 500-wicket club, the ace off-spinner flew back home to Chennai following a family medical emergency. When he walked off the park at the end of Friday’s lashing, relieved at the temporary ceasefire, Rohit would have banked on his most accomplished bowler in home conditions to spearhead the fightback. Instead, while the team’s prayers lay with Ashwin and his family, Rohit needed others to step up and embrace responsibility, to fill the giant breach left by Ashwin’s unavailability, if that’s even possible.

The thousands of fans who made a beeline to the stadium, and the hundreds of thousands others who settled in front of their television sets, might have feared the worst when Saturday dawned. By the time stumps were called, they sported broad grinds, thrilled by the remarkable display of resilience, resolve, character and skills that have now thrust their favourites into the box seat.

The bowling group needed to fire collectively to halt the marauding English juggernaut, determined to espouse the ‘Bazball’ philosophy unblinkingly. For that, the remaining four-man attack had to complement each other. Fortunately for India, while they are light on Test experience when it comes to the batting, the bowling unit is well settled and hardly new to the pulls and pressures of the five-day game.

Jasprit Bumrah was, unsurprisingly, expected to be the lead actor. Again, unsurprisingly, it was he who provided the breakthrough in the first half-hour, packing off his bunny Joe Root to a terrible shot expertly held at second slip by Yashasvi Jaiswal. But this wasn’t the start of the Bumrah show. Bumrah was only a bit player for the rest of the innings with Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja putting their hands up, mixing sustained pressure with wicket-taking deliveries to rip the heart out of England.

Having had time to revisit his approach, Rohit led with greater flair and control, though as always, it is the outcome that defines the veracity of a bowling change, a funky field. India maintained relentless pressure, refusing refreshingly to be sucked into England’s brand of play as they stuck to their disciplines, and the rewards were forthcoming. Perhaps there is a lesson in that going forward.

Kuldeep was the X-factor with his left-arm wrist spin, still a novelty in Test cricket. He obtained more grip, and turn, than any other spinner previously, and his break-back to catch Jonny Bairstow in front sowed seeds of indecision in the English ranks. From having gone at six an over the previous evening, the visitors could only score at half that rate; once Kuldeep had evicted Duckett for a truly magnificent 153, Jadeja and the irrepressible Siraj took over.

India bowled superbly in partnerships, working as a unit instead of focusing on individual glory. With the surface not offering him much joy but using reverse swing as a potent ally, Siraj produced two searing yorkers to pack off Rehan Ahmed and James Anderson. By then, Jadeja had done his bit, and from 207 for two overnight, England subsided to 319 all out, a deficit of 126.

There still was work to be done, because this England side fancies itself to chase down any target in any conditions. Two young guns took it upon themselves to build on the advantage procured by the bowlers. Grabbing a leaf out of the Rohit-Jadeja book of the first innings, Jaiswal and Shubman Gill blunted England, first with caution and then with breathtaking audacity. Jaiswal in particular was a sight for sore eyes, going from 25 off 73 to 104 off 133 when he was forced to retire hurt, with back spasms. By then, he had subjected England to a taste of their own medicine. Had he been watching in Chennai, Ashwin would have doffed his hat in appreciation. And respect.

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