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Winning it in singles, India’s gen next shows they too can

Shubman Gill and Dhruv Jurel hold out promise by simplifying a challenging chase

Fourth innings chases in India usually come with disclaimers. Pitches can be reduced to dust bowls, spinners can turn the ball square, close-in fielders start swarming in your face and the chirping can get irritatingly loud. Random scary numbers are thrown at you. Like this: Not once in the last 10 years have India scored 150+ in the fourth innings to win a home Test. You would still think rationality won’t go for a toss even when the target is 192, 10 runs less than what India were dismissed for in Hyderabad and their lowest score in seven innings of this series. But it did.

Shubman Gill and Rajat Patidar celebrate India’s win during Day 4 of the 4th Test against England(ANI)

It’s all in the mind, really. This wasn’t as bad a pitch as it was made out to be. The groundwork laid out diligently the previous evening, all India needed was to build on it. Rohit Sharma was leader like, taking as much strike as possible, spooking England with a few ODI-like shots while constantly imploring Yashasvi Jaiswal to bat out a few balls before going after a bowler. He didn’t, trying to go over extra cover against Joe Root but getting a leading edge instead.

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Only Sharma can shed light on what possessed him to skip down the pitch to Tom Hartley like that but at that point, India needed some confidence in the form of a partnership. It wasn’t to come. Rajat Patidar was snaffled easily at short-leg. And when Ravindra Jadeja and Sarfaraz Khan were dismissed off consecutive balls in the first over after lunch, all those fourth innings chases gone wrong could have derailed India’s thought process.

This is where Shubman Gill and Dhruv Jurel decided to go back to their basics—breaking down the target into smaller targets, turning the ball into the gaps, farming the strike and letting England stew in their nervousness.

“Jurel came out and took the pressure off,” said Gill after the match. “He saw the situation and played accordingly. They were protecting the boundaries, so it was about not giving maidens and keep picking the singles.”

Key to doing this was picking the length early and threading the gaps. If Jurel tried to hang back most of the time, Gill showed why deserves such top billing by taking the ‘lbw out of the equation’ by using his feet and presenting the full face of the bat to England’s spinners. But England still hoped.

“We took wickets in clusters, and even with 30 runs left we knew that if we went bang bang all the pressure was back on India,” said England skipper Ben Stokes.

This is where India didn’t play England’s game. Chipping away at a tricky fourth innings target with ones and twos is a tried and tested method you might believe has been consigned to the past in the wake of today’s franchise-fuelled brand of batting. But by dialling back the years, Gill and Jurel have shown they really belong here, that there still exists a place for introspective batting, shrewd application and tons of patience. It’s not as if they had forgotten their instincts.

When Jurel finally drove Bashir through covers, it was India’s first boundary in 31 overs. It took the required runs to below 50 but not until India were 20 runs away from the target did Jurel and Gill break free. Two massive sixes by Gill, followed by a boundary from Jurel and suddenly India were almost home.

And it was only fitting that Jurel hit the winning runs. From grafting a 90 with the lower order in the first innings to dropping anchor and just watering down the target like this, Jurel has been a revelation in a position that has given India many headaches in the recent past. The keeping was always top class. Bonus is this level of maturity in sussing up the conditions during a tricky chase.

“Whatever the situation demands, I want to do that,” said Jurel. “In our first innings, I thought the more runs I score now, the fewer runs we would have to in our second innings. Focus was on seeing the ball, not the bowler. Gill and I were discussing about (breaking the target into) small tasks, to approach the chase in sets of ten runs each.”

When asked about Jurel, ‘solid composure’ was the first thing that Sharma spoke of.

“Calmness as well,” he said. “He has got the shots too, played all around the wicket. The first-innings 90 was very, very crucial for us to get close to England. And then obviously again in the second innings, showed a lot of maturity, a lot of composure as well, along with Shubman Gill.”

Jurel and Gill here, Sarfaraz Khan at Rajkot, Yashasvi Jaiswal throughout the tour—this series has already aggregated an unending list of achievements from the next generation batters. “It means the world to us, playing the series with not much batting experience, losing KL after the first Test. But Rohit Bhai backed us and gave us the confidence to go out and play with freedom,” said Gill.

It is that kind of a home series that hasn’t been won solely by the top-order batters, or by Ashwin-Jadeja. Being the side that they are, led by an instinctive captain like Stokes, England threw at India everything they got with every combination and from every angle possible. That India’s gen next could still persevere like this despite losing the top half in a tricky fourth innings chase shows they have the gumption for a tough fight. No victory comes easy. But this one looks splendidly well-earned.


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