India’s 2-0 win in Bangladesh was anything but comfortable. While there is little reason to panic, a wrinkle or two needs to be ironed out.
Mehidy Hasan Miraz hit the stumps and celebrated, as did the crowd at the Shere Bangla Stadium. Chasing 145, India were left reeling at 74-7. Axar Patel, who had justified his promotion to No.4 by scoring 36 – almost half of India’s total – walked back to the pavilion. India were 74-7 at that point; they needed another 71 as R Ashwin joined Shreyas Iyer.
In Asia, only three times have teams added more for the last three wickets to win a Test match. India had done it only once, against Australia in Mohali in 2010/11. They were as good as chasing history.
Of course, this was not the ‘usual’ eighth-wicket partnership, for Iyer was India’s usual No.6 and Ashwin No.7. They were batting out of position because India had promoted Axar, then as night-watch, Jaydev Unadkat. While that was true, so was the fact that Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Siraj were the only batters to follow.
Both Iyer and Ashwin played their shots, taking advantage of Bangladesh’s justifiably aggressive field placement to score quick runs. The fans breathed a sigh of relief when Ashwin played the winning hit.
Getting the main thing right
A side needs to take 20 wickets to win at Test cricket. That is a given. The Indian bowlers struck with regularity throughout the Test series. Barring the opening stand during the chase of 513 in Chattogram, none of the 40 Bangladeshi partnerships lasted 20 overs or amounted to 60 runs. Had the Indian fielders held every catch, particularly in the third innings, the Mirpur Test match would not have been a close affair.
One must remember that India would almost certainly have played Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, and Ravindra Jadeja, had they been fit. They bowled brilliantly despite missing three frontline bowlers, even after dropping Kuldeep Yadav, the Player of the Match in the first Test match, for the second – to get the bowling combination they wanted on that pitch.
The Indian bowling attack is so deep that Ishant Sharma, despite his 311 wickets, has been relegated to domestic cricket after four ordinary Test matches. Shardul Thakur (27 wickets at 24.44) only plays outside the subcontinent, Axar only in Asia. Earlier this year, Jayant Yadav broke through for two Test matches; he took 5-62 and 0-36, and may not play again in near future.
India’s bowling riches were evident over the course of the Test series. Each of the six bowlers contributed at least once in the four innings. If India have a problem in bowling, it is one of plenty. They might have failed to take 20 wickets in their last three Test matches away from Asia – twice in South Africa, once in England – but there is no stopping them in the subcontinent.
Since the start of 2018, India have played 18 Test matches in Asia: they have taken all 20 wickets in 16 of these and 19 in the other two. Of these two, one involved a batter having to retire hurt. The Australian batters will have their work cut out in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy later this season.
Amidst the stupendous performance of the bowlers, let it not be forgotten that India were one – or perhaps two – wickets away from their first defeat against Bangladesh in Test cricket. It was not a one-off: India were 112-4, then 293-7, in the first innings in Chattogram before reaching 404; and 94-4 in the first innings in Mirpur, where they made 314.
Across the 718 runs in these two innings, three partnerships amounted to exactly 400 runs. When India lost wickets, they lost them in a cluster.
One may argue that collapses are expected if a team plays five bowlers, not all of whom are great with the bat. Yet, this time, it was not really the extra bowler that let India down. If anything, the all-rounders and bowlers did their bit: Ashwin and Axar, even Kuldeep, Umesh, and Unadkat, chipped in with cameos.
Rishabh Pant has gone from strength to strength since Test cricket resumed after the global lockdown. Shreyas Iyer, too, continued with his golden run, which essentially covers all of his one-year Test career. It is not just his one hundred and five other fifties in 12 innings either: he is yet to be dismissed for a single-digit score in the format.
And after being dropped from the Test side, Cheteshwar Pujara earned his place back through domestic cricket, top-scored in the second innings in Edgbaston, and played two emphatic innings in Chattogram in contrasting styles.
Shubman Gill had impressed on Test debut, against a world-class bowling attack in Australia in 2020/21. With 259 runs at 51.80, he seemed set to form one-half of India’s opening pair for the decade. Yet, since that tour, his next 477 runs have come at 26.50. His maiden hundred, in Chattogram, was replete with exhilarating strokes, but he had the cushion of a 254-run first-innings lead. Of course, these are early days in his career, and given how quickly he has adapted to ODIs this year, it is only a matter of time before he replicates that in Test cricket.
That brings us to the rest of the batting. Since the start of 2020, Virat Kohli has scored 917 runs at 26.20 across 20 Test matches. The average is the second-worst of all batters who have batted 30 times in the top seven over this period. India have already dropped Ajinkya Rahane, the only player to have done worse (24.20), and had dropped Pujara (30.33) before he regained his spot.
This is not a small sample: it amounts to a nearly fifth of Kohli’s Test career. There has been the occasional flash of brilliance – the 72 in Chennai in a losing cause; two forties and two fifties in six innings in England in 2021; a dazzling 79 in Cape Town this January – but they have not been frequent enough. These are worrying signs, though the selectors (as and when a panel is recruited, that is) may not be worried even at this point. The average might have fallen from the high 54s, but it is still in the 48s.
KL Rahul’s case is different. Getting in to the XI in England in 2021 in the aftermath of an injury to Mayank Agarwal, Rahul made 84 in Trent Bridge, 129 in Lord’s, and 46 in The Oval on either side of four low scores. He signed off the year with 123 in Centurion and started 2022 with 50 in Johannesburg; his last seven Test innings have amounted to a mere 87 runs.
Unlike Kohli, Rahul never found consistency since the Australia series of 2016/17, where he amassed 393 runs at 65.50. He averages 28.65 since then, across 28 Tests – in a 45-match career. There is little history to fall back upon, no great peak to look at. Gill, despite his inconsistency, may get the edge due to his ODI success; Agarwal is just outside the squad; Abhimanyu Easwaran made 141 and 157 for India A in Bangladesh; and both Pujara and Hanuma Vihari have been willing to open.
There is little doubt regarding Rahul’s talent, but when Rohit Sharma returns to the XI – he has played only two Test matches, both at home, since September 2021 – he may not be an obvious starter for India’s next Test series.
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