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Amid Bazball noise, India took the truly aggressive route to victory

India play five specialist bowlers in their push to take 20 wickets every Test.

Very early in this marathon five-Test series that concluded on Saturday, it was apparent that India had an inexperienced batting line-up and an experienced bowling attack. England, on the other hand, had experienced batters – three with 100-plus Tests now – while their bowling unit comprised three rookie spinners. In Dharamsala, for example, England’s top seven had a collective experience of 474 Tests compared to India’s 172. India’s spinners had 184 Tests under their belt as against England’s Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir with eight Tests between them.

India’s Ravichandran Ashwin celebrates the wicket of England’s skipper Ben Stokes on Day 3 of the 5th Test match, at Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium, in Dharamsala(ANI )

If Test cricket is a game of experience, therefore, the duels between England’s batters and India’s bowlers were going to be decisive to the outcome of this series. And India’s bowlers won these battles almost every time, illustrated by their success in taking 20 wickets in all five Tests for a 4-1 series victory. It was only in the second innings of the first Test in Hyderabad that England got on top of India’s bowlers, led by an unexpected knock of 196 from Ollie Pope who returned only 119 runs in his other nine innings. Of further relevance is that England managed totals exceeding 350 in only two of 10 innings. India, despite fielding a few debutants, racked up 350-plus scores in five of nine innings.

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These matches were played on perfectly good Indian pitches that gave the away team nothing to complain about, and yet the lack of skill and application of their batters was exposed repeatedly by a world-class five-member Indian attack. This is the essence of why India’s winning streak in home series now stands at 17. In this series in particular, India could have easily chosen to lengthen their batting by playing another specialist batter to make up for the inexperience, but they played five bowlers in each Test.

It helps that Ravindra Jadeja, who is six shy of 300 Test wickets, is also a capable No.6 batter with four centuries (no coincidence perhaps that India’s winning streak at home began shortly after his debut). But cast your mind back to the second Test in Visakhapatnam when the all-rounder was injured. Having faced criticism for losing the first Test in Hyderabad where they failed to chase 231 in the fourth innings, India had the option of strengthening their top seven with a proper batter in Jadeja’s place at No.6 and relying on just four bowlers. Instead, they decided to bat Axar Patel at No.6 – a risk with debutant Rajat Patidar at No.5 and

KS Bharat at No.7 — and bring in left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav to retain a five-man bowling unit. That Kuldeep has captivated us all with 19 wickets in four Tests shows they have been vindicated. At the end of the series, India coach Rahul Dravid could afford to chuckle while recalling that move in Visakhapatnam. “When

I saw Axar walk in at No.6, I remember looking at Vikram (Rathour) (batting coach) and thinking, “jeez, VVS (Laxman) used to walk out at that position”. With due respect to Axar (laughs), he is a lovely player. It was the braver option and I am glad we went with that. We knew we needed 20 wickets to win the series and trust our batters to do the job. That’s paid off,” Dravid said in the post-match press conference on Saturday.

The reference to Laxman batting at No.6 during Dravid’s time is reflective of an era when India almost always played six specialist batters followed by the wicketkeeper and four bowlers. That isn’t the case anymore. Over the past decade, India have more often than not tilted towards five proper bowlers. Yes, Jadeja and R Ashwin’s status as great spinners as well as handy batters provides that balance at home. But even in Tests outside Asia, India have been willing to sacrifice that extra batter and focus on the best possible way of taking 20 wickets.

Remember, when India did remarkably well on the previous tour of England for a 2-2 draw, they always had four specialist pacers to go to with Jadeja as the spin-bowling all-rounder at No.7. Jadeja and Shardul Thakur’s superior batting ability may give them the edge over some other bowlers – Ashwin glaringly missed all these Tests as a result — but it’s commendable nonetheless that the captain always had five bowling options at his disposal. Whether it was the combination of Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri as captain and coach or Rohit Sharma and Dravid now, the thought process hasn’t changed.

“We have always wanted to ensure we have the best resources to be able to take 20 wickets. That’s the bottom line of what me and Rohit have always spoken about. That’s what wins you Tests…being able to take 20 wickets as quickly as possible. That’s something we have been clear about,” Dravid said on Saturday.

For all the talk about England’s attacking methods and their “noble endeavour” to keep Test cricket alive – they stubbornly stuck to just four bowlers all series — it’s perhaps India then that is taking the truly aggressive route by always hunting for wickets and wins.


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