If you truly understand cricket, watching day two of the second Test unfold at Lord’s wouldn’t have allowed you to criticize the Indian batting line-up. Let it be said here – those were horrendous conditions. A hell for batsmen really, with James Anderson and Chris Woakes moving the ball more than at will.
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You can argue about the diabolical run-out – yes, it could have probably got India 10 more runs, again given how the ball moved on a string in the final session. It is easy to slate these Indian batsmen – the tougher thing to do is hold those horses of opinion. The problem being that day three didn’t really help this narrative.
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When play began, the conditions were reversed. It seemed an entirely different English summer, one without rain and continuing with the heat wave. There was not even a single threatening cloud in the sky. Moisture went out of the air, and the ground. What would have Indian batsmen done to bat then?
Instead, a narrative from Ravi Shastri rang out loud. “We want to be the best traveling unit in world cricket,” he had said ahead of this series. Forget 107 runs, and everything else – in light of that statement, this day mattered. It was a test of India’s resolve, of their pacers, of their spinners, of Hardik Pandya’s all-round worth, and of Virat Kohli’s captaincy. It was India’s sternest examination as the world number one Test side yet.
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How did it work out? Very well, if you switched off the television at lunch time or exited Lord’s and cut yourself off from cricket altogether. For those two hours, India bowled with perseverance, with intent, with gut feeling that the wickets will come if they keep plugging the same line and length, and with an intensity matching their resolve to get England for 200-odd, somehow keeping this game alive.
If you then walked into Lord’s, or switched on the television for the remaining day’s play, it was an entirely different script. India’s battle extinguished as soon as England breached 200 with five wickets remaining. Shoulders dropped as the ball stopped moving, the spinners didn’t have much control on proceedings, and it was a long wait for stumps from there onwards.
Barring, the first hour of play post lunch. Mohammed Shami has looked a changed bowler since his exertions in South Africa. Ishant Sharma is every bit the senior bowler he is talked up to be. Together, they hassled Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler, repeatedly beating both inside and outside edges. But as luck would have it, they went wicket-less.
IN PICS: India vs England, 2nd Test, Lord’s, Day 3
The question to ask here is – why did Virat Kohli deploy both his pacers after lunch?
The answer is why not, because he only had the two available. There is no back up to Shami and Sharma in this Test, as India went in with one hand tied behind the back. Pandya, you ask? Well, opinion is split as to what he really does.
“I am a batsman when batting, and a bowler when bowling,” he replied, when asked about his role post play on day three. There are two ways to look at this. One, Pandya has a simplified approach to cricket, and he doesn’t want to muddle his head. And two, the management doesn’t know if they have a batting or bowling allrounder at their disposal, which is affecting the team balance.
Kohli – and Shastri – picked Pandya as the third-choice pacer for this Test. When Shami and Sharma finished bowling that post-lunch spell, Bairstow and Buttler knew that the toughest passage of play was over. Compare that to what Ben Stokes did in Birmingham, wreaking havoc when called to bowl both in the first and second innings.
He broke the Indian middle and lower order twice in two innings, and that is called making an impact. Pandya is not a bowler in that same league at the moment. Will he ever be? We don’t know. Can the Indian team management wait until then? Maybe. Should they make better selection choices in the meantime? Definitely.
It is easy to judge the decision to pick a second spinner in hindsight. The pre-match conditions – hot temperatures and a dry square – put both captains in a quandary, and both Kohli as well as Joe Root were not sure whether to play the second spinner or not. This is where the awareness factor creeps in.
After a full day’s washout, with the toss yet to come, perhaps the Indian team management should have improvised their plans and resisted picking Kuldeep Yadav. If they did really want to play a second spinner, why not pick R Ashwin as the all-rounder ahead of Pandya, and still play three pacers?
They didn’t, neither plan A or B.
There is a headstrong rigidity in planning and strategy from this think-tank, the drive to change too much week in week out, and an inherent confusion over dropping some players at the drop of a hat (just look at the batting order) whilst inexplicably backing others to the hilt.
It is impacting India’s fortunes in overseas Test cricket since South Africa (in January), and this Lord’s Test is just another sad exhibit of India’s problems of their own making.