The exclusion of Ravichandran Ashwin from the Indian team for the Oval Test has occupied most cricket discussion.
In this din, the real problem was swept under the carpet by the Indian team management. They have kept faith in the core that has repeatedly failed to make runs for the many past series in England and New Zealand conditions. As a noted physicist once said, doing the same things and expecting different results is stupidity.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have such poor averages over three series in England that Virat Kohli’s faith in their coming good borders on insanity.
English bowling has been relentless since the first innings in Headingley. The return of Chris Woakes has made the pace quartet impregnable. So, one can understand the agony that the Indian batsmen are going through at the crease. But that doesn’t mean the team should accept defeat and keep getting hurt.
One would have expected India to make a couple of changes in the batting order. An idea could have been to bring in a surprise attack weapon like Surya Kumar Yadav to set the English bowling unit thinking. The innings that Shardul Thakur played in this fourth Test showed to one and all that an unconventional approach can destabilise a bowling attack as disciplined as England’s.
The same set of players with a conventional method and pronounced weaknesses being asked to face off again is like lambs being led to slaughter.
I can understand the logic behind dropping Ashwin. Kohli wants to play four seam bowlers and a spinner all-rounder in these conditions. He would like that spinner to be more a batsman who can bowl controlling spells. Ravindra Jadeja has looked comfortable every time he has come to the crease in this series, and one can understand his getting the nod ahead of Ashwin.
Shardul Thakur is a player that needs to be in the team every match, particularly in SENA conditions. He is the only genuine swing bowler in the team, and modern-day batters have problems against this type of bowling.
Additionally, he is an unconventional batsman who makes valuable runs, just like we saw in the Gabba Test and this Oval Test. So, I can understand the sound logic behind not picking Ashwin. However, I can’t understand the reason for persisting with the batting unit as it stands now.
Pujara has now shown that his 91 in the Headingley Test was an aberration. He got out the same way to James Anderson as he has done since the 2014 series. Ajinkya Rahane played the usual way and got out nicking to the slips. There is neither current form nor history to show that they know how to play in these conditions. It is also no coincidence that neither batter has got himself established in this batting order since KL Rahul made his debut in 2014.
In this series, KL Rahul scored centuries in the first two Tests and has now contributed little since the second innings in Lord’s. This pattern of sporadic scoring has been rampant in this team, barring Virat Kohli. It is no surprise that he is the only batsman to average over 50 runs.
The unrelenting blind faith shown by the management towards a set of batters who average low 40s and high 30s is beyond comprehension. If their decision is rational, does this mean that India has no bench strength to bat in international cricket? I find this hard to believe.
I would reason this as the current management’s reluctance to look beyond certain names and hope they will come good eventually. Meanwhile, the Indian team continues to go through repeated batting collapses and depends on the marvellous bowling attack to make something out of the poor situation.
Something must give, and the current team management has to be held accountable for the repeated batting failures in English and New Zealand conditions.