When Virat Kohli said in his post-match interaction that all three skills of India’s game needed to come together, he omitted stating that none of them turned up in the crunch game against England on Tuesday.
Consequently, it was probably the most listless performance by this team since Kohli took over as captain. But what made it particularly dreadful was the in the spin bowling department, supposedly the game changer for India.
Kuldeep Yadav, the much-talked about left-arm chinaman and googly bowler, has in his short international career run up a reputation for being bold, aggressive and inventive. He was known as someone not afraid to toss the ball up in the air, tease the batsman and prise him out with his mesmerising variety of chinaman, googly and top spinners.
But this was not the Kuldeep that showed up at Headingly. Accepted, the pitch was sluggish for his style of bowling and compounded by a short straight boundary. But what disappointed was Kuldeep’s approach to these limitations.
He must have taken one look at the pitch and the short straight boundary and decided that he needed better protection; which was available square of the wicket.
This played into the hands of England’s batsmen, particularly Joe Root and Eoin Morgan. They cut and pulled him often off the backfoot, something that would have been tough on quicker pitches. The slow nature of the pitch made these strokes possible even when on occasions he pitched the ball further into the batsman’s end of the pitch.
Clearly this was not a pitch to Kuldeep’s liking. He seemed to withdraw into his shell rather than taunt the batsmen in his wonted form by giving the ball that rip and tossing it up further.
Actually Kuldeep should have learnt a thing or two from England’s Adil Rashid, who was playing on his home turf. The leg spinner bowled a lot quicker; may be at the ideal speed for this pitch and got the ball to turn quite impressively.
The delivery that castled a well-set Kohli was a peach. Kohli’s defensive prod from the crease was breached by a delivery that spun at good pace from a length and knocked out his off stump. It was probably the ball of the tournament. Rashid’s three crucial wickets — of Kohli, Dinesh Karthik and Suresh Raina — rightly fetched him the Man of the Match award.
Disappointingly, India’s spinners failed to take a leaf out of his book. They bowled at the wrong speed and length and paid the price.
Root, supposedly a Kuldeep bunny, shrugged off that tag in no time. He dominated a vital partnership with his captain to show that he had sorted out his inner demons and would therefore be the major enforcer this English summer.
Interestingly, Root and Morgan looked to attack and in between enthusiastically rotate strike. The constant shifting of line to left- and right-hand batsmen brought out the worst in bowlers and fielders.
Chahal, who got hammered in only his last over, looked good at times. He bowled slightly quicker than Kuldeep and got the odd ball to turn sharply. But his line was excessively defensive when an early wicket or two could have put the home side under pressure.
Of course Kuldeep’s nine wickets in the series (average 16.4, economy rate 4.9) put him way ahead of the rest with Rashid (six wickets; average 24.8), David Willey (five wickets, average 22) being England’s best bowlers.
But the issue for India really was that there was no back-up for Kuldeep. Chahal (two wickets, average 67.5, economy rate 4.5) kept the scoring in check, but could not effect crucial breakthroughs. And this told on the overall performance.
Worse was the fast bowling resources. It increasingly looks like India just do not have a full complement of fit fast bowlers to call upon. Bhuvneshwar Kumar looked woefully out of touch as bowler and fielder. This was his first match after injury and it showed him at his worst.
Additionally, unlike England's pace bowlers, who had the pace and height to make short-pitched balls climb, Indian pace bowlers’ attempt to make the batsmen play with a horizontal bat was a flop. The tall Root simply transferred weight onto his backfoot and punched through covers and point with a straight bat.
Thus Hardik Pandya and Sharadul Thakur simply could not exert any influence on the batsmen.
True, India’s batsmen fell by at least 30 runs short of the desired total. But the way in which the bowlers responded, it is unlikely that they would have been able to protect even a total of 300. And that’s the worry.