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How the Indian team learnt on the job to defeat England 3-1 in Test series


While India’s young talents shined in the absence of established stars, Rohit Sharma led the way with smart decisions



At 120/5 on the fourth day’s afternoon session in Ranchi on Monday, after India lost five wickets for 36 runs from 84/0, England were, quite suddenly, poised to level the series. Wicket-keeper batsman Dhruv Jurel joined Shubman Gill on a cracked pitch where England’s tall spinners were proving to be a handful. The young Indian duo’s skill, temperament, and tactical nous to take India to a 3-1 series win from there, with an unbroken 72-run partnership, showcased the depth of talent in the country.

Gill has been playing at the top level for a few years now, but he’s only 24. Jurel is a year younger, and this was only his second Test after making his debut in Rajkot earlier this month. The way in which these two rising stars kept the scoreboard ticking, curbing the urge to hit out under intense pressure, was as good as any of the famous chases by India’s illustrious coach, Rahul Dravid, in his heyday.

Gill showed the way by using his feet to smother the off-spin of England’s main threat, Shoaib Bashir. Jurel, who had saved India with 90 in the first innings, transferred the pressure back on the bowlers by always looking to score and not just survive. This was a refreshing change from the ultra-defensive approach of Rajat Patidar, Ravindra Jadeja, and Sarfaraz Khan, which proved their undoing.

In Ben Stokes, Gill and Jurel faced a captain on the field trying to get into their minds. They shut out the distraction of constant field changes, which were sometimes tactical, but often an exercise in smoke and mirrors. With fielders set deep in catching positions, Gill did not hit a single boundary for 119 balls. Finally, with 20 more runs to get, he stepped out to Bashir and lofted him for two towering sixes.

India were without their star, Virat Kohli, who was away for the birth of his second child, and another established batsman, K.L. Rahul, who dropped out after the first Test with a quadriceps injury. So the young guns had to step up to the plate and show their mettle.

Yashasvi Jaiswal, who was unlucky not to be included in the ODI World Cup side last year, was the best of the lot. He equalled Kohli’s record of 655 runs in a home series, which is second only to Sunil Gavaskar’s 732 against the West Indies in 1978-79. Jaiswal’s back-to-back double centuries in Visakhapatnam and Rajkot helped India win the last two Tests, and he contributed 110 in the Ranchi Test victory.

Gill had a poor run in Tests after giving up his opener’s slot to Jaiswal in the West Indies in July last year. But his century in Vizag, 91 in Rajkot, and 52 not out in Ranchi—all in the second innings—reasserted this skilful batsman’s importance to the Indian team.

Kuldeep Yadav celebrates with teammates after tacking a wicket.

Kuldeep Yadav celebrates with teammates after tacking a wicket.
(PTI)

Skipper Rohit Sharma had to lead from the front, as the only ‘wise old man’ in thebatting lineup. His 204-run partnership with Jadeja rescued India from a precarious 33/3 in Rajkot. And in Ranchi, he set up the run chase in the final innings with a vital 55.

His relaxed leadership style inspired India to come back from behind time and again, against an aggressive opposition that had not lost a series since Brendon McCullum became the coach in May 2022. India’s tactical wits were tested to the full. After Ollie Pope’s reverse sweep took England to a win in Hyderabad from a 190-run first innings deficit, India had to find answers.

In the six innings after his 196 in Hyderabad, Pope has scored a total of 88 runs. Once his reverse sweeps were cut off and made riskier with well-placed fielders, Pope had to come up with other ways to score, and he failed. Ben Duckett’s blitzkrieg innings of 153 in Rajkot finally ended when the Indian skipper pushed the midwicket fielder back to cover the slog sweep. Then India clawed back to win.

In Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, India had far more experienced spinners than England. But they too had to work out new methods against batsmen using unorthodox strokes. They were also playing at uncommon venues for Tests in this series, where the pitches are different from the usual ones in mainstream centres like Chennai, Mumbai, and Kolkata.

It’s when left-arm leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav came into the picture that India’s spin trio became lethal. India had made the mistake of leaving him out in the first Test to lengthen the batting with all-rounder Axar Patel, but after his return, Yadav made a telling difference to the attack in the last three Tests that India won.

England’s highest run-scorer in the series, Zak Crawley, has fallen to Yadav twice at critical junctures. The leg-spinner was grossly under-bowled in Ranchi, getting only 12 overs out of the 105 India bowled in the first innings. But he remained unfazed and picked up four wickets from the 15 overs he bowled in the second innings. These included the game-changing back-to-back wickets of Crawley and Ben Stokes.Equally pivotal was Yadav’s 76-run eighth wicket stand with Jurel in the first innings, when India were reeling at 177/7 in reply to England’s 353.

While Yadav bolstered the spin attack,India had to rely on new pace bowling talent too. Bumrah was rested for the Ranchi Test and Mohammed Shami has been unavailable for the series with an ankle injury. So when debutant Akash Deep rocked England with three strikes on the first morning in Ranchi, it was another box ticked.

The spirited Mohammed Siraj has had his moments but his pace was down to a medium of 130-135 kmph in Ranchi. This made Akash Deep’s contribution with his skiddy pace all the more salient. Deep was an inspired selection after Mukesh Kumar proved ineffectual in Vizag as the second seamer.But the biggest kudos to the selectors should be for bringing Jurel into this series. The wicketkeeper-batsman’s position has been a riddle for India after Rishabh Pant’s car crash at the end of 2022.

Rahul had donned the keeping gloves abroad, while K.S. Bharat kept wickets in India where spinners are more in play. But Bharat fumbled behind the stumps and appeared insecure with the bat too in the first two Tests of this series. And Rahul has been beset with injuries since last year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) season. So young Jurel’s impressive glovework and batting since his debut in Rajkot is a major gain.

The only hole that India is yet to fill adequately is in the middle order. Sarfaraz Khan had two impressive fifties in Rajkot but did not get a start in both innings of the Ranchi Test. Rajat Patidar has appeared tentative and out of his depth after his move from domestic cricket to the international level.

It’s surprising that the selectors overlooked the stylish young left-hander, Sai Sudarshan. He had an average of 52 at a strike rate of 141 in last year’s IPL for Gujarat Titans, made a fifty on his ODI debut in South Africa in December, and scored a century and 97 against England Lions last month. His classical batting style appears well-suited to Tests.

What next for England’s Bazball? It is to England’s credit that after winning in Hyderabad against the odds, they got into winning positions in Rajkot and Ranchi. That they could do this with rookie spinners speaks volumes of the leadership.

Stokes has been instrumental in the spinners’ success, giving them long spells as well as fielders in smart catching positions. The wickets of Rajat Patidar and Sarfaraz Khan in the second innings in Ranchi came from Pope being placed at backward short leg—a position left vacant when India bowled.

The only regret for England will be that Joe Root did not play his normal game until his unbeaten 122 in Ranchi. There was no need for a classy batsman like Root to go for premeditated and risky slogs earlier in the series.

For now, India’s Wall stands firm against the Bazball onslaught. But the home team had a lot to learn, in what turned into a game of chess between two worthy captains. They and their rising stars have reinforced the enduring appeal of Test cricket.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru.

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