It’s often said that confidence is an important trait to possess but overconfidence needs to be shunned! This is extremely relevant in the context of the Indian cricket team whose members were dismissive of the visiting English team’s ‘Bazzball’ tactics. Before the series, many Indian players had claimed that on India’s turning tracks, the aggressive batting intent wouldn’t work and England batters will have to adopt a better way to survive, let alone win! But now, the tide has strongly turned against Team India who are 1-0 down in a crucial 5-match Test series, the winner of which will be an important determinant for getting a spot in the World Test Championship (WTC) finals next year.
Interestingly, India dominated the first two days of the Test match at Hyderabad. The pitch which looked like a raging turner had English batsmen in a puzzle as they were shot out for just 246 after winning the toss and batting. Their captain, Ben Stokes was the only one who provided some stiff resistance in a knock of 70. Indian then piled on the misery on the visitors by scoring at over 6 an over till the end of play on day 1.
Even on the second day, Indian batsmen continued with quick scoring. But this is exactly where India lost a trick. While there were contributions all around by Yashasvi Jaiswal, KL Rahul, and Ravindra Jadeja, all of whom got 80s, no one went on to make a big score. This was also pointed out by Indian Head Coach, Rahul Dravid post-match who said that the team should have got at least 70-80 runs more in the first innings which became a turning point on a pitch that was slowing down.
India was dismissed for 436 but still had a significant lead of 190 runs. Fans and experts alike felt that the game was all but over when in the second innings too England were tottering at 163 for 5, still trailing 27 behind and first innings savior Stokes out to a beauty from Ashwin! Ollie Pope though had other ideas as he bamboozled the Indian spinners with his stroke play. His sweeps and reverse sweeps became his defence and he scooped at will! Eventually, his innings ended at 196 but the damage had been done and India succumbed in the chase eventually.
It’s been happening too frequently of late and Indian batters’ struggle against spin in the second innings is now well-known. Far from being assured after seeing England post a humongous second innings score, Indian batsmen were timid and tentative in their approach. The result was a disappointing defeat that many had not anticipated. The margin of victory could have been bigger had it not been for the lower order as India’s last 3 wickets put on 83 vital runs.
Heading into the second Test, India’s problems are compounded with injuries to some key players. KL Rahul and Ravindra Jadeja are ruled out of the next Test which has created a mini selection crisis in the Indian camp. As replacements, selectors have called upon spinners Saurabh Kumar and Washington Sundar but the void left by Jadeja poses a unique challenge.
Jadeja’s absence leaves a gap both in batting and bowling prowess, making the selection of replacements a critical decision. While Kuldeep Yadav and Saurabh Kumar offer reliability in the bowling department, Sundar’s prowess as a left-hand batter presents a different dimension. The delicate balance between choosing a specialist bowler and an all-rounder becomes extremely critical under such circumstances.
India has also selected Sarfaraz Khan, who was knocking at the door for national selection for a long time. Several ex-cricketers have been vocal about his inclusion in the team and many celebratory tweets reflected that a just decision had finally been taken. His domestic average which is closing in on 70 includes 14 hundred in just 45 matches.
For inclusion in the playing XI, Sarfaraz will have to compete with Patidar who was already a part of the squad as Virat Kohli’s replacement. Though Patidar’s inclusion seems more likely, the question arises about Sarfaraz Khan’s fine form of late as he scored 161 in his last outing against England Lions. The need for batting depth prompts consideration for both players, with Patidar’s big-match temperament and Sarfaraz’s ability to score quickly coming into play.
Whatever combinations Team India goes ahead with, fans will hope the young recruitements make a positive difference in the outcome of the Test. The series is important for India as a win will get them ever so close to the WTC finals. In between, India also has to contend with a gruelling away tour of Australia at the start of 2025.
Given this backdrop, the second Test promises to be a fascinating contest of strategy and adaptability. One fact that Indian fans can take heart from is that England beat India in the first Test on their last visit too. But India had the better of them as they won the series 3-1. Now, the team’s ability to find a balance that compensates for the losses and adjusts to the playing conditions will be instrumental in shaping the outcome of the crucial battle of wits in Visakhapatnam!