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Team India gets their pitch right to move ahead in England Test series

Wining on turning tracks may appear to be the easier thing to do, but Rohit and Co have changed tactics against England and it’s paying off.

Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid lost an opportunity of a lifetime to win a legacy-building World Cup last year. That they stumbled on the final hurdle by misreading a home pitch would rankle for a long time. Now, with Bazball in the air, against formidable England at home, they couldn’t afford to make any false moves. And they haven’t. Things are finally falling into place after the Rajkot Test win in the ongoing marquee series.

Rohit Sharma (C), coach Rahul Dravid (R) and bowling coach Paras Mhambrey interact during a practice session (AFP)

It’s now clear, Rohit’s verbal tirade in South Africa against match referees for penalising turning tracks in India was little more than a smokescreen. A conscious call was made to go back to traditional Indian tracks; where it becomes easier to bat to begin with, and the, the highly-skilled spinners would call the shots in the second innings. Without many of the established batters, this would allow the the younger Indian batters to find their feet in Test cricket too.

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The results have been there for all to see. Yashasvi Jaiswal from 50 runs at an average of 12.50 in South Africa has transformed his career stats with sensational performances – 545 runs with double hundreds. Sarfaraz Khan impressed with twin fifties on a good Rajkot pitch. Even Shubman Gill has managed to lift his stuttering career with 252 runs, averaging 42.

At a broader level, taking a break from pitches that break up quickly has also allowed India to prepare more batters for the future. With the transition process in motion and plenty of Test cricket to be played over the next twelve months – 3 Tests against New Zealand and 2 against Bangladesh at home and 5 away in Australia – this serves an ideal opportunity for the selectors to build the bench, amid a surfeit of T20 cricket.

India’s batters have piled up 5 hundreds (including Jaiswal’s double-tons) and 6 fifties to England’s 2 hundreds and 4 fifties in the series. On good pitches, big runs leave a greater impact than quick runs. That’s one way of addressing Bazball.

Good pitches have also widened the gap between the two bowling attacks. This became the most obvious at Rajkot where Indian spinners managed 13 wickets at an average of 19.7 to England’s 8 wickets, averaging 70.6. England’s now-or-never approach also meant, Indian spinners finished the job in 61.4 overs itself, while English spinners had to toil hard for 153 overs.

43 of those overs were bowled by Joe Root; England’s leading batter has had to endure 6 times more bowling workload in this series than he has done in his career. After the Rajkot result, Indian spinners series’ bowling average and SR has improved to 31.5 and 44.2 to England’s 39.7 and 66.1.

“We can’t compare the two bowling line ups; we are all different. If you look at the situation, India was able to put more people around the bat. With the pressure of batting last in the Test match, it starts doing things to you. It also giving bowlers confidence when you see the ball spin and bounce,” England captain Ben Stokes came to his young spin attack’s defense.

But it’s the Indian batting, which has been able to offer their bowlers’ the comfort of bowing with a huge lead. Indian batters have hit all the shots, but they have built their innings, the traditional way.

India’s sustained pressure in familiar climes has also forced England to retreat from their hell-for-leather batting approach. The Stokes-Root laborious partnership on the final day at Rajkot, even though it didn’t succeed eventually, showed that they are beginning to concede that disruption isn’t the only key to success against quality bowling.

“In terms of tempering approach, Joe (Root) made a great point to me when we’d lost those wickets and they were going…it felt dry and we weren’t trying to put any pressure back on to them,” Stokes said. “It’s about the situation in the game. The ball starts spinning and bouncing again, there’s loads of people round the bat. That’s an opportunity where you can try to get the scoreboard moving again.”

India’s tactics to go for traditional pitches didn’t come without risk. Under Stokes-McCullum, despite the two losses in India, England still enjoy a 66 percent winning rate in 21 Tests. England had gone to Pakistan and forced them to submission in 2022 on similar pitches. Ben Duckett’s blazing first innings hundred in Rajkot held a similar threat, but the quality of India’s bowing made the difference.

“Rather than getting frustrated and doing too many things, it is important that you stick to your strengths, understand where the run-scoring opportunities are for the opposition and then try and stop them,” said Rohit Sharma.

On home ground, India have searched for some creature comforts and starting with the pitch, the right approach has helped them find the sweet spot. The series, though, isn’t done and the hosts will want to take an unassailable lead when the fouth Test begins in Ranchi on February 23.


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