India’s tour of England is done and dusted with a familiar story of defeat for India and justifications coming in from various quarters. Some quarters want the team to keep the chin up, head up inspite of the score line. From the men who matters the most, there is apt defence of everything they did, a few unlucky situations leading to the final score and some iffy situations resulting in the score line.
Indian management had a clear schedule of pitches and were aware of the conditions when they were handed over the tour schedule of South Africa and England and for the upcoming tour of Australia. The current crop of Indian Players are one of the most competitive ever fielded by India for overseas tours, especially tours to SENA (non-Asian) countries and specific aspects in the tour justified that:

  • Kohli’s batting was class above the rest and had scored heavily on both the tours. Especially his success in England completely erased the dismal performances in 2014.
  • Indian fast bowlers were genuinely quicker than the opponents and created more flutters
  • Indian bowlers consistently got 10 wickets in the innings and 20 wickets in the match in the entire series in SA and for few matches in England as well, which was unheard of
  • Indian slip catching had improved
  • Indian side was seen as aggressive and competitive by the opposition as well.
  • English team not the strongest and their catching woes was worse .
  • With the recent happenings, upcoming tour of Australia in November is predicted to be an easier tour for India compared to the other two. However, given the quality of play from South Africa and England during the tours, it is very apt to say that THIS WAS A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY MISSED BY INDIA TO ESTABLISH SERIES VICTORY IN THESE COUNTRIES. Remember both South Africa and England played as good hosts and provided friendly pitches as well.

    At the outset, while the Indian batting unit has a whole (barring Kohli and few other performances) have failed in both the series leading to series loss, there have been selection errors and rigidity shown by the coach and the captain which further aggravated the situation. These unfortunately have gone largely unnoticed among the commentators and the experts who covered the series.

    Let us dwell deep into some of the difficult and sensitive aspects that people may not want to consider or to accept which led to these disappointing results. Some of these were really apparent in England.

    1) SELECTION CONUNDRUMS for the series and for individual test matches

    a) Tried and Failed (vs) Blooding Youth in Opening slots

    Some of the selections for England tour was made with the performance against Afghanistan in the one-off test series. What else can be said about the selection of Shikar Dhawan for this tour? He has failed miserably over the last few tours including the one in South Africa, but still he was one of our three openers… Bowlers have found an easy way to get Dhawan out given that he has a temperamental fuse. Our commentators and selectors make a big hue and cry when he gets dropped from the team, but no body can stand up to quote handful of instances when he has performed well on overseas tours barring tours to Sri Lanka. Shikhar’s attitude throughout the tour was evident, displayed lackadaisical attitude in catching (smiles after dropping a catch!!!!) and too casual in the field.

    The entire team management talked about tough conditions for batting in Lords test and yet Murali Vijay was dropped from the total tour after a debacle in the Lords’s test. True that his form in 2018 has dipped compared to 2014, and at 34, age is not on his side, but he could have been given one more chance during the tour rather than the abrupt dropping given his overall overseas record as compared to Shikar Dhawan

    There are some instances which are tough to erase from the minds of cricketers. Short balls hitting batsmen on helmet, getting hit for six runs off the last ball, deadly toe-crushers causing injury and loss of self-confidence due to non-selection. Clearly, the last one has impacted Rahane. It was a rude shock for him to see him dropped from playing XI in South Africa having contributed well with a 40+ average in almost 70+ innings. Further, the way Indian think tank has ignored or confused him in shorter formats have led to his cluttered mind. You can clearly see that he is feeling insecured and this leads to him playing some strange shots which he would not play otherwise. He had few decent starts in the series, but could not capitalize and take his team home especially in Southampton. India needs a confident and settled Rahane for the Australia tour.

    Ajinkya Rahane batting – Tests

    Rank Country Number of Players
    1 India 10
    2 Zimbabwe 9
    3 New Zealand 9
    4 Pakistan 8
    5 Bangladesh 8
    6 South Africa 8
    7 West Indies 8
    8 Sri Lanka 7
    9 England 7
    10 Australia 7

    Pujara had a better tour of England, but India would expect him to do better than scoring one fifty / one hundred in 8 innings. His tour average was close to 40 , thanks to the not out as well. He has failed to make starts in crucial second innings of both Southampton and Oval, which has led to the defeat. The failure in Southampton would have hurt him most.

    Clearly, the selection panel need to have invested in some body like Mayank Agarwal / Prithwi Shah for the entire tour instead of Dhawan, which could have benefited them and the team in long run. If mind cannot win over matter in Rahane’s case, it is better to have him replaced by Karun Nair, who was part of the tour. Here again, somebody like Shubman should be nurtured for long term

    b) England and South Africa are no place to develop all-round skills for no:6 spot

    Selecting Hardik Pandya as an all-rounder for the no: 6 spot / fifth bowler has not worked well in these two series. He was used as a bowling allrounder in couple of matches and then as batting allrounder in the other matches to fill up position no: 6 in the batting order. Worst was that he was compared to the great Kapil for winning one of the matches. Knowing his fraility as an unfinished product yet for such role in such conditions, this did not augur well for India (barring an odd inning here and there).

    Some may argue that he took a fifer in the third test and was instrumental for our victory there, but clearly such performances are far and few from him, with his average wickets in tests being 1 per inning. In Lords test, he was clearly found wanting and was wayward as well. What he did in Trent Bridge was a small redemption for his own good.

    Hardik Pandya – Batting & Bowling stats : Tests outside Asia

    Position Inns Runs Avg SR 50s/100s
    6 4 55 13.7 46.6 0/0
    7 9 197 24.6 69.9 2/0
    8 1 31 31 50.8 0/0

    Inns Wkts Avg Econ SR
    12 13 31.5 3.6 53.1

    c) Selection in the playing XI did not consider the conditions

    In Edgbaston, India went with the standard formula of 4 seamers and a lone spinner without giving consideration to the nature of the pitch. The way Ashwin bowled, it was clear that India lacked another spinner and were left to rue this decision.

    Indian team selection has been rigid in their thought process of having six batters for tests in England. There needs to be more flexibility in this approach. In a test match like Lords where the first day was washed out and having lost the previous test which was a low scoring affair (by 30 odd runs), it would have been better to select a batsman and go with a 7 – 4 combination. Another argument in this favour is that even the opposition team is not scoring many runs / batting for longer periods to tire your bowlers and therefore your fifth bowler is really redundant. The same error was made in the next two matches as well, though pundits may argue that their 5th bowler (Hardik) won the game in Trent bridge.

    Hardik Pandya (Identified as 5th bowler) : Bowling in Pataudi Trophy 2018

    Venue #Inns Overs’ bowled Bowling Batting score Venue #Inns Overs’ bowled Bowling Batting score
    Lords** 1 17.1 3/66 11 The Rose Bowl 2 8 1/51 4
    Lords 3 26 The Rose Bowl 4 9 0/34 0
    Edgbaston 2 10 0/46 22 Trent Bridge 1 6 5/28 18
    Edgbaston 4 31 Trent Bridge 3 14 1/22 52*

    **Used as the 4th bowler given the conditions

    By picking Kuldeep for the Lords’ test, Indian selection panel erred in their strategy. Given the conditions for the test and Duke ball in-experience did not help Kuldeep’s selection. Having lost the first day of the test due to bad weather, you begin to wonder how the selection panel felt that Kuldeep would be better suited for the test. He bowled less than 10 overs in the whole test and was clobbered all around. Not only did India lose the test, Kuldeep’s confident got dented and he was shunted out of the tour.

    Southampton pitch has aided spin as history of both test cricket and for this year’s league games (refer detail below). it is hard to believe that Indian management ignored this detail. Atleast, they should have taken a cue from the England team announced 24 hours before which included two spinners. There seem to be a rigidity within the team management that “WE KNOW ENOUGH” and this is impacting the team and the results. Also, how could the team choose the injured Ashwin as the sole spinner on a spin friendly track is a mystery that is hard to unravel. There was a stage in the game when Kohli used him for longer spells (20 odd overs) which did not further help his cause. The entire press and the commentators were cynical about Ashwin’s poor performance, but nobody has ever raised a voice against the incorrect selection policy.

    Two test matches played in Southampton before, with the last one in 2014 between India and England. Spin plays a crucial role in 3rd / 4 th innings. In the county matches this year, couple of spinners have taken 4-fer in the 3rd / 4th innings.

    Bowler Type Match Inns Overs Runs Wkts Avg Econ
    Pace Eng Vs Ind, 27/07/2014 4 262.1 815 15 54.3 3.1
    Spin Eng Vs Ind, 27/07/2014 4 115 407 15 27.1 3.5

    What the management needs to realize is that such situations happen quite rarely and in a series where your batsmen are struggling, it is better to give a cushion with seven batters in such conditions. The same error was made in South Africa and it is hard to imagine that the selection panel lacks flexibility in thinking.

    2) Bowlers leaking runs due to inconsistent bowling in crucial phases

    It is hard to criticise the bowling unit (especially the fast bowlers) after their lion-hearted performance throughout the series. However, it is important to dissect their performance in phases. In the first innings of the tests in Edgbaston and Lords, the new ball bowlers sprayed the ball around and we had given away easy runs, before they settled down. In the second innings at Edgbaston, the bowlers were inconsistent which aided the lower order to score east runs. Similarly, in Lords Test, the English batsmen made heavy weather of the inconsistent start by the indian bowlers, who tried very hard to defend a paltry total. The runs leaked in these phases indeed proved very costly considering the margin of defeat or changing the course of the game.

    Indian Pacers in first 15 overs – Edgbaston Test

    Indian Pacers in first 15 overs – Lords’ Test

    Similarly, the inconsistency crept in as they could not control the swing / seam movement and conceded lots of byes in both Southampton and Oval test matches.

    Extras Conceded – Pataudi Trophy 2018

    Venue England India Difference
    Kennington Oval, London 19 50 -31
    The Rose Bowl, Southampton 18 38 -20

    These are little but very crucial things that needs to be controlled in the middle.

    3) Preparation “matters” for series happening in SENA

    Both the tours of South Africa and England had one practice match scheduled for 2 days / 4 days respectively, which is ridiculous.
    There is an old adage “WHEN YOU FAIL TO PREPARE, YOU PREPARE TO FAIL”, which clearly applies for the current Indian team / management. In South Africa, the team played the best in the 3rd match after trailing 0-2. In England again, we won the 3rd test having trailed 0-2 till then. The current Indian management went one step further to reduce the practice game to 3 days from 4 days in England as they felt that they did not get good opposition to play. Instead, net sessions were intensified. You try to acclimatize with the weather conditions, get your players’ body ready for match fitness in alien country etc. through practice matches even if you do not get quality opposition.

    Even if there is a merit in the argument about the tight schedule that the team is subjected to, there should be atleast 2 practice matches and also it is important to play it as a standard fixture of 11 players rather than playing with 15 players. Will our team management insist on this for the tour of Australia?

    BCCI could go with hiring foreign coaches / trainers for specific tours and can also hire few home grown players to assist the Indian team during the Net sessions when they travel abroad.

    4) Questions on Captaincy aspects

    Kohli has been an inspiring leader on the field and carry lots of emotions and is not shy of displaying them as well. However, there have been many times when he follows the ball / game rather than being ahead of the same as a captain.

    There have been occasions during this tour when fieldsman moved into the slips / gully after the ball has gone through that area.

    Similarly, some of the bowling changes have been more ordinary during this series. Firstly, there were rigid ideas on who would be bowling and to what extent:

  • Ishant and Pandya almost bowled the same numbers in the 1st innings of Edgbaston for most part of the innings. Ishant was brought back in the end to polish off the tail.
  • Mohd Shami was removed after few overs during a spell in the second innings at Edgbaston. Shami had troubled Curran during this spell. Couple of additional overs from Shami could have probably got the breakthrough. Instead Umesh was brought in and Curran settled in to get the vital 50 and the victory / the man of the match award
  • DRS is another area where Kohli has not learnt from his past mistakes. Success rates with the DRS reviews taken during fielding leave much to ponder.

    Oppn Batting Reviews Successful Unsuccessful Umpire’s Call Success%
    SA 10 4 3 3 40.0
    England 21 6 13 2 28.6
    Oppn Bowling Reviews Successful Unsuccessful Umpire’s Call Success%
    SA 12 2 6 4 16.7
    England 17 1 12 4 5.9

    Clearly, there has been muddled thinking of the captain desperately seeking victory in foreign soil. It is important for him to calm down and become more pro-active so that he can take better decisions on the field. Back room staff can really help the captain in this regard.

    5) Bowlers not trying short balls to unsettle batsmen

    In Edgbaston and in Southampton, Indian bowlers did not try short balls on Curran (only 5.46% of the balls bowled were short). Strangely, they did not try that enough with Moeen Ali as well who is very susceptible to short ball stuff as they found him wanting in Ashes. There ought to be phases in test matches wherein variations are required to upset the rhythm of the batsmen. Trying short balls in swinging or seaming conditions, can bring more tentativeness into the foot work. Indian bowlers need to bring in surprise factors and short ball theory is one such option. Clearly, when the set plan failed against Curran, there were no alternate plans to counter Curran’s batting ability.

    Indian public would move forward, forget these issues that happened in England. They would continue to cheer the team in upcoming Asia Cup, WI tour of India etc and would hope for the Indian team to deliver results for them. It is the responsibility of the Men who Matters who should dissect the results in SA / England and make sure that same mistakes are not repeated and there is accountability for such avoidable lapses.

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