Stunning Reversal in Edgbaston: Who will figure out India’s Test problems?


At stumps on day three at Edgbaston, India was 125-3 at stumps. It meant a lead of 257 runs with seven wickets in hand. Cheteshwar Pujara and Rishabh Pant were set and unbeaten, with Shreyas Iyer, Ravindra Jadeja, and Shardul Thakur to pad up.

No one could have envisaged at that juncture that India would go on to lose the Test by seven wickets, and with two sessions to spare.

England’s record-breaking 378-run chase was a thing of beauty. It was in keeping with how their batsmen had performed against New Zealand in three successive Tests. Coach Brendon McCullum had made an immediate impact and introduced “BazBall”, a fearless batting approach that takes over the game in the final innings.

To see the Kiwis get beaten was different, and for three days, India belied the intended script. But, to witness India’s celebrated attack get pummelled for a 378-run chase in just three-plus sessions across the fourth innings was staggering.

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Where did it go wrong for India’s attack? For starters, it couldn’t keep a lid on England’s scoring rate. The openers brought up 100 at 5/over, the 200 came up at 4.4/over and then the 300 came up at 4.65/over. This was an unrelenting run rate, stunning even for the fourth innings of a Test. Most tall chases fall by the wayside precisely because such a high rate of scoring is not maintainable throughout the innings. England negated that in every sense.

Joe Root has stood like a rock in these five Tests, and accumulated 737 runs in five Tests. The key to India’s bowling suffering was how easily he was able to rotate strike. Ishant Sharma wasn’t penetrative enough bowling to him, and he simply stole singles at will. You would think India had done a recce of last summer’s knocks and learned a lesson, but not. Root and Jonny Bairstow maneuvered the field brilliantly during their 269-run partnership and rotating the strike was the anchoring point of this partnership.

A key problem was the lack of a holding bowler from one end. Throughout the series (2021 and 2022), Ravindra Jadeja was seen as the fifth bowler and the only viable spin option. Many times, thanks to conditions, his role was limited to bowling a few overs. In fact, Jadeja bowled only 16 overs per innings (average of 9 innings) throughout this series. Mostly he bowled in the rough outside leg, seldom bowling around the wicket, and failed in the holding role.

Should R Ashwin have played in this fifth Test? Perhaps, especially after he sat out all four Tests last summer. Ashwin is a specialist with the Dukes’ ball and bowled well at Edgbaston in 2018, a wicket that tends to flatten out over five days. In hindsight, playing Shardul Thakur on this surface made little sense and India should have fielded both Ashwin-Jadeja for this Test.

Cynics could argue that Ashwin played in South Africa, and yet India was unable to defend totals in both the second and third Tests. While conditions are different from South Africa to England, this raises a further question. Is the Indian think-tank strategizing properly, not just for conditions at a venue but how any particular wicket itself changes from days one to five? Or, is it just picking the best pace bowlers available, strapping them up with one of the two spinners, and just winging it?

From Johannesburg to Cape Town, to Edgbaston, there is a common thread. Both spinners failed to make a mark because they weren’t suited to the conditions (Ashwin in SA and Jadeja in England) on offer. The support pacers – Mohd. Siraj and Umesh Yadav – proved to be expensive. The all-around option in Shardul Thakur came a cropper. Effectively, this reduced India to just Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, and across the expanse of a fourth innings, the duo was worn down as conditions aided batsmen.

India is currently riding a wave of fast bowling options, and perhaps getting carried away, in the hope that this battery of pacers will ride out any challenge. It doesn’t work like that, and there is optimal planning and careful bowling selection needed to counter varying challenges across any Test in overseas conditions. However, this isn’t the biggest headache facing the team management.

As much as McCullum, Root and Bairstow ought to be applauded for England’s win, and India’s bowling criticized for their fourth innings’ performance, the reversal in this game came on day four. India collapsed from 125-3 at stumps on day three to 245 all out on day four, leaving five-plus sessions for the hosts to chase down 378.

If England borrowed from McCullum and played in that maverick style, India ought to have borrowed from Dravid’s copybook in grinding down the opposition. With a first-innings lead of 132 runs, it was the ripe opportunity for Indian batsmen to bat England out of the contest. It didn’t transpire so.

India had already lost Shubman Gill, Hanuma Vihari, and Virat Kohli by stumps on day three. They contributed merely 35 runs in the second innings. More importantly, it is the lack of time they batted, facing 87 balls among them. In the first innings, the same trio faced only 96 balls. When three of your top-four batsmen cannot bat longer than 100 balls in an innings, you are in trouble.

Sure, this is where India sorely missed KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma from last summer, but there is no point crying over spoilt milk. India picked Gill and Vihari on the promise, which is not coming across. The same can be said of Shreyas Iyer later in the order, and his struggle against the short ball compromises his future selection on overseas tours. Then, there is the question of Kohli’s struggles.

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India’s next Test against Bangladesh is in December 2022, and by then, Kohli will have gone three years without a Test hundred. If you want some comparison, Root has scored 11 hundred since January 2021, and has now overtaken Kohli’s tally of 27. Since November 2019, when Kohli last scored a Test hundred (also against Bangladesh), he averages 27.25 in 18 Tests with only six half-centuries.

There is a serious conversation to be had here about Kohli’s form, and indeed a larger discussion is needed about India’s overall Test batting direction. Over the last year, the selectors rung in a few changes but they haven’t worked in this high-stakes one-off Test. The next six Tests are in sub-continental conditions, so it is easy to paper over the cracks. What of the next overseas cycle beginning in 2024 though?

Coach Dravid and the selectors have a lot to ponder upon.

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