The first training session of the Indian cricket team in Indore was all about intent. The batters – from Rohit Sharma to Virat Kohli to Cheteshwar Pujara to Shubman Gill – looked to bat freely against the spinners and deposited quite a few into the stands. Similar template, however, wasn’t carried on to the match and intent didn’t translate into impact. Yes, the wicket in Indore wasn’t an ideal one but impact was by and large missing from the Indian camp. Apart from Cheteshwar Pujara’s 142-ball 59 and Shreyas Iyer’s 27-ball 26, no Indian batter figured a method.
What really is the method to succeed on these strips? Is attack the best form to defend, or rather survive, or staying tight, like Cheteshwar Pujara and Usman Khawaja (1st innings in Indore) did, the way forward?
“You just got to go and score runs, find ways to score runs. And that is the talk within the group,” Rohit Sharma said at the pre-match presser in Ahmedabad.
Batting has been tough, very tough but not impossible. Some players have shown that quick adaption, proactive footwork and the right dose of caution and aggression could well do the trick. The leading run-getter in the series is Rohit with 207 runs in five innings but 120 out of those 207 came in the only innings of the Nagpur Test. Next on the list is Axar Patel with 185 runs from 4 innings. Rest in the list largely average between 25 and 35. Even Pujara’s skilful 59 could only boost his tally to just 98 in five innings. Such has been this series for batters from both camps.
The pitch noise
There was too much noise around the conditions and pitch and it continued through the first three Tests. Rohit reiterated after the Indore debacle that the hosts are still keen on playing turners and urged his batters to dish out better performances. For him, it’s the little and impact contributions which matter and that’s why both Rohit and even Steve Smith, at the pre-match presser today, mentioned about Iyer’s counter-attacking cameo in Indore.
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“Conditions are there for us to play and you’ve got to find a way to score runs whatever the pitches you play on. That is the talk. We’re just trying to figure more and more methods of coming out on top when the pitches are challenging. So yeah, every individual is different and they’ll find their own methods of scoring runs,” said Rohit.
From all quarters, India’s top-order has come under lot of criticism in the first three Tests with consistent contributions missing from opener KL Rahul (first two Tests), Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. Coach Dravid, in the presser on March 7, said the pitches have been a challenge and even better contributions won’t make a good reading on the scoresheet.
“Just backing our batsmen to understand that these are challenging conditions and they’re the same for both sides. And for them to be able to use it as a challenge and an opportunity to do something special. It might not necessarily be about scoring big double-hundreds, but you know there might be scores of 50-60 or scores of 60-70 somewhere might be really, really good scores in some conditions,” said Rahul.
It could well be this Test when the decent numbers are put on the scoresheet as the pitch has looked better than the ones used for the first three Tests and as Smith said, “not likely to turn from the first day or ball one”.
The Rohit template
From the group of batters of both sides, Rohit has probably looked a cut above the rest when it comes to playing spin and tackling these conditions with a very proactive approach. May it be that period of play in Nagpur where he punished Pat Cummins for straighter lines with the new ball or the Delhi innings where he kept jumping out of the pitch and looked very positive. The 35-year-old has shown a bit of everything and has driven home the point that adapting and staying ahead of the bowler is the way to go.
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“I think when you are playing on these kinds of pitches you have to slightly stay ahead of the bowler as well. Before he does anything, you are ready with what you want to do. It should be that kind of mindset. I’m just talking about me, not talking about anyone else. It’s how I approach (batting). I cannot give you the entire detail of how I approach an innings because it won’t be right. From the top what I think is trying to stay ahead of the opposition, trying to do different things on the pitch. Nagpur was a great example for me as well as to how I wanted to bat in the series. Also, before the series we played a series against England. In that series, I got a 100 in Chennai (2021, second Test) where the pitch was turning a little bit. I try to apply myself, try and do what I’m good at, things like that. You have got to adapt to your strength and it will be different from the others. So I try and stick to my plans, my strength and what I do the best. Stick to those kinds of things,” said Rohit.
Win the toss, and?
Is it the only series where three results have been in favour of the captain who lost the toss? A unique situation but such has been tosses and results this Border Gavaskar Trophy. Rohit lost the first two tosses, won the games and Smith lost the toss in Indore but had the result his way. The inverse relation between toss and result has made the Indian captain keep all options open, for now.
“It’s actually something I really thought of. If you win the toss, what should we be doing. So I guess, the three results that have come, the captains have preffered to lose the toss in that case. But usually that doesn’t happen. It’s probably you know maybe the first time that all the tosses that have been lost by the captain has gone on to win the game. I don’t think that has ever happened in India,” said Rohit.
“Again it tells you that toss is not a factor at all in this series. You’ve got to bring your best skills, play best cricket and win the game,” he added.
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