When talking in any press conference, Ravi Shastri chooses his words very carefully. It shows in how he doesn’t speak in long sentences, and makes sure the impact of his voice carries to those listening in. As such, it is tough to miss out on the importance of what he saying.
Take the build-up to this third Test, for instance. When asked about his message to the Indian team after the Lord’s defeat, Shastri replied, “Just believe in yourself. You have been in this position couple of times before and you have responded. There is no reason why (it cannot be done again). We are here without a negative bone and wanting to play to win, as simple as that.”
Turn back time to January, and India were in a similar situation, score-wise at least. In South Africa, they were trailing 2-0 after losses in Cape Town and at the Centurion. It was a near-similar script: losing a see-sawing first Test and then coming into the second Test in a brash manner, only to concede defeat again. Even so, that Centurion defeat hurt a lot more, simply because it came in freakishly similar conditions to the sub-continent.
It hurt the collective ego of this Indian team, and forced them to come out fighting, nay, punching out on a raging green-top at Johannesburg. The loss at Lord’s was hurtful too, but more in terms of individual egos. Let it be said here, for the last time, that India drew the short straw in terms of toss, conditions and luck throughout that game.
Even so, the Indian batsmen — all of them, each in their own way — must be hurting. Murali Vijay and KL Rahul know they are better openers than those two opening partnerships. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli know they are better runners between the wickets than that horrendous run-out. Ajinkya Rahane knows he is a better overseas batsman this Test series has shown. Dinesh Karthik knows he can simply do better than he has thus far. All of them have shown in the past that they are capable enough to hold their own in the World’s No 1 Test side.
Often, cricket is termed as a team game. But within the expanse of time it is played out in, irrespective of format, cricket is also the sum of eleven individual parts. Perhaps the Indian team management understands that these parts need to come together for any chance of a turnaround in this series. At different times on Thursday and Friday, both Shastri and skipper Virat Kohli played out on this aspect.
The coach called vice-captain Rahane ‘a pillar of Indian batting’. Never mind that Rahane was unceremoniously dropped in South Africa, this is precisely what he wants to hear right now. In a similar manner, Vijay, Rahane, Pujara and the remaining Indian batsmen need to be reminded of their abilities. It is almost as if they have plunged into a deep cave of low morale, and Shastri must swim to them, and one by one, pull them out of this chasm.
While the coach is undertaking the mental conditioning role on an individual basis, the skipper is taking a more holistic approach. “The only thing we have spoken about is to focus on what the team requires at all times. When your back is against the wall, you cannot afford to think of anything else but what the team requires at that particular moment or throughout the course of the Test. The only conversation we have had is that the only option is to win this game and nothing else,” said Kohli on Friday.
Here, the key phrase is ‘what the team requires’, specifically for this Test. At the time of writing, it was more or less assured that Jasprit Bumrah will be included in the playing XI as third pacer. There will also be a second change, with Rishabh Pant slated to play his maiden Test ahead of Karthik. The latter did not don his keeping or batting pads during two days of pre-match practice, with Pant hogging all limelight.
You can understand these changes, even if they are unfair to both Karthik and Umesh Yadav. The former’s confidence has now completely evaporated after it seemed that he had turned a corner in his international career earlier this year. Maybe the management could have backed him longer if the scoreline wasn’t 2-0 against them. But it is, and it is easily apparent why they need to do something drastic.
Umesh, meanwhile, will be unlucky (again!) to miss out. Yes, the team management is excited that Bumrah is back in contention, but he has not bowled a ball in anger since 27 June in Dublin. How do you throw him into the mix all of a sudden, that too ahead of two other pacers (remember Shardul Thakur)? This is the underlying point. India’s team selection at Nottingham shouldn’t be just based on words like ‘gut feeling’ or ‘instinct’, or anything else for that matter.
It has to be based on solid reasoning. Like the pitch at Trent Bridge — different from the 2014 flat-track laid out here, wherein England and India scored 1,200-odd runs over the course of five days. There is green on the top of the surface, holding it together, and while it is not dry, spin might come into play over the last couple days if it comes to that.
More pertinently, the wicket will favour seamers. Yes, there will be movement, but this is one ground in England that assures movement off the surface, more than through air. James Anderson enjoys bowling here, but Ben Stokes will like bowling here too. It is not just because he is ‘not guilty’, available or raring to go, but solid reasoning that Joe Root asserts when picking his most lethal all-rounder and dropping Sam Curran from the playing XI.
Bumrah too will enjoy bowling here — pushing the Dukes ball onto the deck, especially with its pronounced seam. Can he be India’s saviour in a game they cannot afford to lose? That is anybody’s guess, and a tall order indeed.