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How Indian batters stayed humble to conquer spin

No rank turners meant scoring runs wasn’t a lottery and young home batters showed a fresh way to deal with England’s spinners

India’s brilliant comeback to snatch the Test series against England with a game left has highlighted young cricketers handling pressure while experienced hands underlined their class. A relatively less focused aspect has been how they dealt with spin to give India a 3-1 lead after the Hyderabad defeat.

The young batters have stepped up for India in the ongoing series against England.

Spin was expected to play a dominant role and it has, but unlike the rank turners of the past that made scoring a sort of lottery, especially second innings runs, slow pitches without demons called for a more calibrated approach.

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The focus — particularly in the last home series against England and Australia — has been about visiting batters being confounded with turn, uneven bounce and the guile of India’s spinners on tracks often throwing up puffs of dust.

Such pitches haven’t been on offer in this series and that has meant focus on performances, and exciting contests. England played a big role in that. It was clear Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum had embraced the spin challenge. With defensive batting already gone out of fashion, England focused on training rookie spinners to take on the challenge of sub-continent cricket.

This is where India’s approach stood out. It perhaps is an aspect of Indian cricket one felt would keep on giving, dominating spin in tough conditions.

Rahul Dravid, in his days as the pillar of Test batting, once said how young Indian batters rising through domestic cricket had to be adept at playing spin, but once in for India, they are judged by how they countered pace and movement abroad.

Seemingly inherent in the comment was how Indian batters are unlikely to lose sleep at the prospect of facing spin on rank turners. With Virat Kohli missing this series and KL Rahul ruled out, Indian batters found a humbler way to deal with spin, although England didn’t have experience in the department.

Comparison of run rates across the four Tests show that India, while not being too cautious, stuck to their methods letting England be the quickest in at least one innings in each of the last three Tests.

Skipper Rohit Sharma said ahead of the series that there was no room for India to be arrogant about their home advantage. Missing seniors meant discipline was vital.

“I don’t think we are unbeatable,” he said before the Hyderabad Test. “We don’t want to think like that. Whatever past records that we have over the last decade or so, they do not guarantee that we will come out on top in this series.”

Ranchi encapsulated the approach of India batters. Kuldeep Yadav drew attention as he made a match-turning 28 off 131 deliveries in the crucial first innings rescue act with Dhruv Jurel.

Kuldeep — he has a first-class century — stood with legs wide apart in his batting stance to ensure he went fully forward or played back decisively. Sunil Gavaskar, on TV commentary, jokingly compared it to Steve Smith. Rohit, happy that homework was paying off in the middle, was imitating Kuldeep to the amusement of the dressing room.

In the second innings as India achieved a tricky target, Rohit and Shubman Gill showed their tactics were well-rehearsed and thought-out. Both came well out of the crease to negate the turn. In the past, it would have invariably led to attacking shots, but such an approach to defend kept the unorthodox fields set by Stokes waiting.

The focus on Gill, unbeaten in the end with Jurel, has been on his “hard hands” with the danger of edges flying to close-in fielders. By coming out of the crease to defend, he dealt with that issue. Jurel, who showed great judgement, technique and temperament on debut in Rajkot and in Ranchi, helped change the view that young cricketers were ‘spoilt’ by T20 and IPL.

Dravid had backed his batters after the Hyderabad loss, debutant left-arm spinner Tom Hartley having run through the line-up with seven wickets to stop India chasing down a modest fourth innings target of 231.

“I wouldn’t be so harsh to judge them,” he said. “It was a challenging wicket, and it’s been a bit of a challenge for some of our young batsmen to adapt. But you know, they’ve got the skill.

“They’ve come here by scoring a lot of runs in domestic cricket. They are being picked on merit. Sometimes it does take time for people to adjust. They’re working really hard and there’s a lot of thought going into their batting.

“It’s just a question of them looking to constantly improve and develop skills that may help them counter these kinds of conditions a little bit better.”

His assessment sits nicely on the evidence provided, young batters stooping to conquer spin on tough but fair pitches instead of strutting to stutter.


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