Winning is not everything; it is the only thing. Even critics who begrudged India’s cricketers their sojourn after the white ball series and later, the Lord’s Test defeat would accept that the team had found the ‘magic mantra’ that turned its fortunes around.
Following their resounding 203-run victory at Trent Bridge, the Indian team, besides silencing the non-stop criticism of its preparations leading to the Test, for now, has instantly become the toast of the nation.
If anything, the emphatic victory in the third Test indicated that it was not the lack of nets sessions but a combination of poor luck with the toss, composition of the team and inability to identify the right person for the right job that cost the team in earlier Tests.
Once some of these issues were sorted out the team was on velvet. Evidently considerable thought had gone into the composition of the team and the manner in which it would go about its task. Consequently the tweaking set the team on Victory Street in the third Test.
For instance, there was a re-look and change at those manning critical field positions. The positive results flowed almost immediately.
Butter-fingered Sikhar Dhawan was banished from the slips cordon. Even Ajinkya Rahane was deployed in slips only for spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. The change of wicket-keeper too helped hugely. Debutant gloveman Rishab Pant took some brilliant catches, especially in the first innings.
Dhawan and Rahane’s ejection from slips ensured that key personnel at 1st, 2nd and 3rd slips, at least for fast bowlers, went to Cheteshwar Puraja, KL Rahul and skipper Virat Kohli in that order.
Rahul and Kohli gobbled brilliant catches which along with Pant’s catching made a world of difference to the team’s performance.
Certainly the think-tank deserves to be complimented for course correction after the first two Tests. Almost all the tweaking they did came off brilliantly in Nottingham.
For starters, the change in the opening combination was particularly fruitful. Dhawan and Rahul outdid expectations by coming up with partnerships of 60 runs in both innings. By doing this they blunted the early threat from the massively experienced England fast bowlers Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. This, in turn, allowed Pujara, Kohli, Rahane to be more relaxed, put their heads down, dig in and boost the score.
In fact the sweetest aspect of the victory was India’s batsmen finally coming to the party. Even lower middle order batsmen, Pant and Hardik Pandya came up with useful scores to show that a lot of thought and spine had gone into the batting over the past few days.
If batting took the battle to a different level, the inspired selection of paceman Jasprit Bumrah showed what a highly potent force-multiplier could do. Brilliant as he was with the white ball, it was his bowling with the Duke-brand red cricket ball that was a real revelation.
For one, the red ball was wobbling in the air and off the pitch, unlike the batsman-friendly white ball. Bumrah’s action, pace, subtle variation of length and line along with allied seam and swing movement made him an absolute nightmare. He came across as a bigger threat with the red ball primarily because of the movement that he was able to squeeze out of it. There was little doubt the team sorely missed his services in the first two Tests. Just like there is little doubt that he will be a major threat to England in the two remaining Tests.
Bumrah’s stirring bowling spells lifted the quality of the attack to the extent that Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Pandya too strove hard to keep pace.
No assessment of tweaking can ever be complete without acknowledging the slips cordon. Kohli led from the front by manning the critical position while Rahul, who stood by his side through every one of the snicks, came through as a champion catcher. The catching in slips had been India’s bug bear in the first two Tests. Certainly the shuffling of guard in that region seemed to have worked wonders. It lifted the quality of the seam attack and gave bowlers the confidence to go all out. In the end India’s slip catchers looked head and shoulders above their English counterparts.
Finally, no praise is too high for skipper Kohli. He is a champion cricketer and may even go on to become the finest produced by India. What makes his cricket particularly compelling is the intensity he brings into everything he does.
He knew batting was an issue and the team had to put enough runs on the board for the bowlers to work their magic. In both innings he took it upon himself to provide the lead (97 and 103) while the rest batted around him. He then stepped up to man the slips cordon and provided brilliant support to the bowlers. With their skipper standing by them, Rahul and wicket-keeper Pant too caught virtually everything that came their way.
In short, this was as clinical a performance that one could hope to see from India in an overseas Test. It has not only given the team fresh hope but ensured that England will need to do their homework before they can compete with this Indian team.