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What India should learn from historic Test victory against England

While India has the upper hand now, this is what the team needs to do to make the series safe in the Ranchi Test

Yashasvi Jaiswal (left) and Sarfaraz Khan were the two heroes of India's huge victory against England.(AP)

By Sumit Chakraberty

LAST PUBLISHED 21.02.2024  |  07:30 AM IST

Until the third morning of the third Test, the India-England series was in the balance. Then the tables turned decisively against Bazball and India went on to record a 434-run victory in Rajkot on Sunday. It was their largest-ever margin of runs for winning a Test match.

India learnt from their faulty selection and tactical mistakes that cost them the first Test in Hyderabad. They prevailed in a see-saw battle in Visakhapatnam to level the series. And now, finally, the home team has gained the tactical nous to get into a dominant position.


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India squandered a 190-run first innings lead to lose the first Test. Leaving out a wicket-taker like left-arm leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav for the sake of batting depth with all-rounder Axar Patel was a blunder. It allowed England to extend their second innings to 420 from 163/5 in Hyderabad.

Flat-footed captaincy compounded the faulty selection. Ollie Pope was allowed to reverse-sweep his way to a rescue act of 196 for England. Instead of cutting off his avenues for scoring by placing a short third man and deep point, India kept waiting for him to make a mistake. Eventually, Pope’s reverse sweep tactic threw India’s experienced spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja off their immaculate line and length.

India rectified the field setting in the second Test. As a result, Pope has scored a total of 88 in four innings since then. The inclusion of Kuldeep Yadav, who took the crucial wickets of Zak Crawley, Ben Stokes, and Ben Duckett (twice), also posed a new challenge to England. Even then, India were left scratching their heads when England rattled off 207/2 in just 35 overs on the second day of the third Test, with Duckett merrily scoring boundaries with the slog sweep.

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Finally, after the third morning started with another lofted slog sweep to the boundary from centurion Duckett, India’s skipper, Rohit Sharma, pushed the mid-wicket fielder back to the boundary. Now restricted to singles from his slog sweep, Duckett’s scoring dried up. Kuldeep Yadav floated the ball wide outside off-stump, adding to Duckett’s frustration, and he succumbed to a loose shot in the end. England collapsed to 319 all out from 224/2.

Better pitches contributed to the turnaround in the series. India had collapsed to 202 all out to lose by 28 runs in Hyderabad on a pitch that deteriorated so much that England’s tall left-arm spinner Tom Hartley could get a 7-wicket haul despite his meagre experience. On pitches that remained firm on the third and fourth days in Vizag and Rajkot, India’s highly skilled and experienced spin bowlers prevailed over their rookie English counterparts.

India also improved their batting lineup by finally dropping the hapless Shreyas Iyer, whose confidence appears to have been shattered by his vulnerability to aggressive fast bowling. His replacement, Sarfaraz Khan, who waited a long time for the opportunity after his star turn at the under-19 level, scored 62 and an unbeaten 68 at nearly a run a ball in the third Test. If not for a runout that was his batting partner’s fault, he would have got a century on debut.


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Khan showed his mastery over spinners with well-placed shots off the front foot, and retreating into the crease to work short-of-a-length balls for wristy singles. His inclusion has strengthened an Indian middle order that had appeared dodgy with Iyer and newcomer Rajat Patidar, who has seemed out of his depth. The batting will be even stronger in the next Test in Ranchi with the likely return of K.L. Rahul in place of Patidar.

Even though India have got into a dominant position, they still need to get their bowling combination right for the fourth Test starting on Friday. The pitch in Ranchi is usually a slow turner on which left-arm spinners thrive. The large ground also helps spinners to snare batsmen with catches in the deep.

In such conditions, India would do well to select Axar Patel as a fourth spinner. This will increase their chances of sealing the series in Ranchi itself, instead of the usually pace-friendly Dharamsala, the venue of the fifth Test.

It’s a tough call to leave out the second seamer, Mohammed Siraj, after his heroic four wickets to restrict England to 319 in the first innings in Rajkot. But India have to pull out all the stops to maintain their upper hand against this spirited and innovative English side. Despite the impressive margin of victory in Rajkot, the home team would do well to remember that it took back-to-back double centuries by young opener Yashasvi Jaiswal to gain a lead in the series.

England will probably go back to the spin quartet they fielded in Vizag, by replacing one of their pace bowlers with off-spinner Shoaib Bashir, who was left out in Rajkot. The likely one to drop out is 41-year-old James Anderson who got only one wicket in Rajkot and was taken to the cleaners by Jaiswal in the second innings. Mark Wood has the extra pace to make a difference even on a slow, low surface, especially with his bodyline tactics.

The bigger problem for Bazball is the batting, now that India’s fielding tactics have cut off easy boundaries with sweeps. The Indian spinners too are mixing up their lengths to trap English batsmen LBW when they bring out the broom. It will be interesting to see if England employ more conventional modes of batting after the two collapses in Rajkot.

The concern for England is the poor run of Joe Root in the series. He was England’s mainstay on previous tours to the sub-continent, but appears in two minds now in the Bazball era. But he’s too good a batsman to keep missing out, and Ranchi may well see him back to his best. All the more reason for India not to let up on selection and tactics.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru.

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