There was a lot of repetition in Alastair Cook’s press conferences during the entire India-England Test series. Most of it was to do with his captaincy, its foreseeable end, and whether that inevitability would transpire in January.
The other was about how much cricket the English team plays, and the lack of a proper scheduling, which saw their cricketers go to Dubai on a mid-series break. Repetitive questions begged repetitive answers, and duly received them. In the noise about their captain’s future, the intensity of their schedule, and their losses of course, Cook’s repetitive use of one other phrase was lost.
“Without two world class spinners, winning in these conditions is going to be hard. In other conditions, with our seamers and spinners who are decent without being world class, we will compete with anyone,” he said, after the shocking loss in Chennai.
It was an apt way to describe this 4-0 rout. England didn’t have the spinners to compete with Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, and they lacked batting experience to go up against Virat Kohli and company. Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav ticked all boxes in India’s favour, besting even their pacers, an otherwise traditional strength for England.
Throughout the series, Cook repeatedly used the phrase ‘in these conditions’ to define his team’s performances and why they were getting beaten in abject manner. It can be argued that he was attaching a rider to the emphatic score-line as it swelled in India’s favour. Some might even argue he was underlining the hosts’ superiority. At least he did so in a manner subtler than James Anderson in Mumbai.
Under pressure of bucking the scoreline, and in the firing line to save his job, Cook did what every captain does on tour. Does anyone have a count of the number of times MS Dhoni took help from similar phrases during 2013-14? It was a time when India’s transition was kicked into high gear. It was a period where they were consistently engaged overseas across 15 months.
And on umpteen occasions, Dhoni had admitted that he didn’t have the bowling attack to take 20 wickets in alien conditions. Cook did much the same, and he offset this thought process by picking a sixth bowler – mostly a third spinner – which was rendered ineffective by India’s superior play.
Alternately, from an Indian point of view, this situation was the genesis of the fifth bowler, first put in theory by Dhoni and executed improperly, for a lack of better option, by Stuart Binny.
Now, this fifth bowler has become a constant element in India’s strategy, whether due to progression of the team or Kohli’s insistence. That is a debate for another day. For now, it is about being a major highlight of India’s ascendancy in the past 15 months or so.
It was in Bangladesh when Kohli first used this five-bowler theory, but its real test was in Sri Lanka, a full series for the new skipper. Since then, Kohli has used five bowlers in another 13 matches. Overall thus, in 22 Tests that he has led India in, Kohli has used this five-bowler ploy in 14 matches, with 10 wins, three draws and a loss in Galle.
Kohli’s penchant for changing around his playing combinations sits in well with his affinity for this five-bowler theory. If Dhoni used it primarily in overseas conditions, Kohli doesn’t shy away from using it at home, or even in sub-continental conditions. Sri Lanka was an obvious example, and therein, they should have never played three spinners in Galle.
That loss has formed an obvious learning and reference point. Kohli and the team management have become more careful in picking their combinations, which again gives an interesting pointer to how they have used five bowlers.
From Bangladesh to Sri Lanka to West Indies, India used five bowlers in seven out of eight Tests. At home, they used five bowlers in only two Tests against South Africa, and not once against New Zealand. While match conditions are always given a noteworthy recognition in deciding the playing eleven, opposition strength matters too. This was a keen differentiator as they progressed from the Proteas to the Kiwis, and then to England, arguably the toughest opposition to visit these shores in two seasons.
A deep batting line-up, the ability to include additional bowling options, and the experience of previously winning here – why Cook even won four out of five tosses, perhaps leaving Hashim Amla and Kane Williamson shaking their heads in disbelief.
It was in Mohali, when India won after losing the toss, on a completely contrasting pitch from a year ago, that Kohli was asked about this progression. “It was exactly 12 months ago when I was asked questions about playing on unfair pitches,” the Indian captain said.
“And now the questions have changed, showing how things have changed for us. Now we don't need to talk about pitches. We just focus on playing good cricket. We are a team that looks to play good cricket in sessions and win those sessions,” he had added.
Cook’s repetitions come in here again. Sure, cynics will argue that India’s unbeaten run has come in home conditions, or others that are mostly familiar in Sri Lanka and West Indies. But within this timeframe, they have faced different situations that have been overturned with gusto. A prime example is the ease of victory in the last two Tests in Mumbai and Chennai – overturning 400-plus scores and inflicting innings’ defeats thereafter is no mean feat, irrespective of conditions.
The underlying point being that India’s invincible home record now allows them to set sights higher, and their success with the five-bowler formula on benign pitches, puts overseas wins as the obvious aim.
Updated Date: Dec 23, 2016 12:20:50 IST