India’s batsmen were the prime culprits in the 4-1 series defeat against England. Of course there were other minor reasons, like poor slip catching, wrong choice of players or unfathomable captaincy. But on the whole, it was the batsmen and their inability to put shoulder to the wheel that led to the debacle.
The seniors in the team who were expected to put their experience and exposure to good use and bat around master batsman Virat Kohli were the worst offenders. They looked like novices and at no time during the long five-Test series did it look like they could take charge of the situation.
Had Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane, three of the senior-most batsmen in the set-up, registered four to five centuries and half a dozen 50s between them, India would have been well served. Yet, in the 22 innings among the trio there was not a single century and just two scores of above 50. You did not need seasoned, experienced, senior cricketers to come up with this sort of lackadaisical performance. That could have come from 20- to 22-year-old youngsters who could have at least put the experience to good use in future.
Instead we had the ignominy of seeing just two batsmen desperately trying to keep the flag aloft: skipper Kohli (593 runs with two hundreds — 97 in another knock; three fifties with two additional scores of 49 and 47) and to a lesser extent Cheteshwar Pujara (278 runs from four Tests including one unbeaten 132 and a 72 that helped India win at Nottingham).
KL Rahul redeemed himself somewhat with an excellent century in his last innings. But for four-and-a-half Tests he looked anything but assured. The same goes for Rishabh Pant. Rahul, till he made amends in the final innings, went about as though his main job on the tour was to only take catches in slips. He did a good job there, but Pant needs to work big time on his wicketkeeping skills. It looks shockingly inadequate.
In contrast, the bowlers were particularly brilliant. They were quicker and more incisive than England’s more famed bowling attack. Jasprit Bumrah, who came into the playing eleven only in the third Test, instantly showed his prowess. His haul of 14 wickets from three Tests almost overshadowed Ishant Sharma’s outstanding bowling. Sharma, the undisputed leader of the pack, came away with 18 wickets. Mohammed Shami (16) was just as effective. In fact all pacemen, including Hardik Pandya (10 from four Tests) bowled well and hunted superbly as a pack. With better catching they and even Umesh Yadav (three wickets from 1st Test) would have been far more incisive and successful.
The fast bowlers looked well primed and performed splendidly because they had put in hard hours in India, arguably the toughest place to bowl pace. They had worked hard at angles, swing, reverse swing and other bag of tricks to ensure that they would not be pushovers on the unresponsive pitches of India. Thus when they got even the slightest assistance from the pitch or cloud cover in England, they bowled like champions.
On the other hand, India’s batsmen, brought up on docile, flat tracks of the sub-continent, had grown lazy. They took their success for granted, expecting that their runs in the batsmen-friendly conditions of IPL and other such matches would see them through.
This lack of preparation, both mentally and skill wise, for England pitches and conditions told almost immediately. They pushed hard at the ball, played far away from the body and looked ill at ease when the ball swung or seamed even slightly. Worse, their attempts at stroke play came across as airy-fairy shots.
Most of the batsmen, including Dinesh Karthik and Pandya, looked pathetically out of depth in the first two Tests. Had one or two of them given Kohli the support he desperately needed India could have won the first Test, rather than losing it by 31 runs. That would have set the tone for the series.
Instead, these batsmen who had scored thousands of runs on flat tracks back home could not get even a 50 when it mattered.
Kohli, the skipper too made mistakes galore. In the first Test, he dropped Pujara, the one batsman who could have given him support. In the second, a seamer’s track, he fielded slow left-arm spinner Kuldeep Yadav by dropping the pacy Umesh Yadav. In the fourth Test, he played an obviously unfit Ravichandran Ashwin. His persistence with Dhawan, even when he did not look like a First Class batsman, was a puzzle.
These apart, some of Kohli’s manoeuvres seemed bizarre. In the first Test when England were pegged to the ropes at 87 for seven he inexplicably spread the field. This allowed young Sam Curran to make a combative 63 and accumulate a match-winning 93 runs with tailenders.
He repeated this mistake in the final Test too and it allowed England to wriggle out from 181 for 7 to 332.
But all these errors paled in comparison to the batsmen’s flop show. Had they done the job expected of them this could have been Indian Test cricket’s proudest moment in recent years. Instead the team was left to rue at what might have been.
Hopefully some of these senior batsmen will never again play for India in red ball cricket. Frankly they don’t deserve to be there. The home series might well be the apt time to seed the next generation of batsmen. We shall know soon enough.