In months leading up to India’s long sojourn of England, there was genuine hope and belief that this was their best chance of beating Joe Root’s side in their own backyard. Experts and pundits couldn’t stop gushing about India’s world-class bowling attack, Virat Kohli and co’s growth as a batting unit and England’s apparent weaknesses.
Also, the decision to play the limited-overs leg of the tour prior to the Test series was seen as a masterstroke as it would have afforded the visitors enough time to get acclimatised to the weather and conditions on offer in England.
What has actually transpired over the course of last 40 days has been utterly disappointing to watch as India succumbed to familiar frailties and ultimately went down 4-1 in the Test series. Captain Kohli was adamant in the post-match press conference after the Oval Test that the series was a lot closer and the scoreline did not do justice to how India played on this tour. His argument certainly has logic as his side had its moments but the truth is that England were much better in crunch situations and the final scoreline is perhaps a fair reflection of the series.
Now that the Test series has been concluded, we list down the 7 key takeaways from India’s tour of England:
1. Virat Kohli is world’s premier batsman in all formats but needs to improve as a captain
Virat Kohli endured a torrid time with the bat when India last went to England in 2014. James Anderson had his number throughout the series and Kohli came back home without recording a single half-century in 4 Tests. The story was completely different this time around as the Indian captain batted like an absolute dream and amassed 593 runs in the 5-match series, most by any batsman. Anderson tried his level best but couldn’t get Kohli out in 10 innings.
While he has never had any real competition in the shorter formats for quite some time now, Kohli has also asserted his position as the world’s premier batsman in Tests following his exploits in South Africa and England.
The batting bit is sorted and he will mostly likely dominate all run scoring charts for the foreseeable future but Kohli has some way to go as far as his captaincy and decision making skills are concerned. He dropped Cheteshwar Pujara for the Edgbaston Test, which India lost by 31 runs. Kuldeep Yadav was inexplicably brought in at Lord’s where the conditions were overcast and the young leg-spinner had to endure the agony of being dropped from the squad and fly back home midway through the series. Picking a half-fit Ravichandran Ashwin ahead of Ravindra Jadeja for the Southampton Test was another blunder on Kohli’s part.
With MS Dhoni missing by his side in red-ball cricket, Kohli has also shown that he lacks the judgement required to take DRS calls and often lets his impulse get the better of him in crunch situations on the field. Heck, he also needs to start calling right during toss as he failed to win a single toss out of five in England!
2. End of the road for Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay
Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay – two experienced pros – were expected to stand up to the challenge of seeing off James Anderson and Stuart Broad’s spells with the new ball and lay a solid foundation for the middle-order to come in and flourish. However, the duo failed miserably and Vijay was even sent back home after a string of low scored in first three Tests.
Dhawan, after failing in the series opener at Edgbaston, was dropped for the Lord’s Test but came back in to partner KL Rahul at the top for remainder of the series but failed to muster up a single meaningful contribution and often let Pujara and Kohli exposed very early on in the innings. The Indian team was banking on Dhawan’s ability to counter-attack and throw English pacers off their lines but it never happened.
Vijay has already been confined to the sidelines and Dhawan should follow suit. The Delhi batsman has had enough chances and doesn’t seem to learn from his mistakes. While KL Rahul also failed for majority of the series, he bought himself some time after a brilliant attacking century on final day of the 5th Test. Young Prithvi Shaw should be his opening partner when India embark on their Australian sojourn later this year.
3. Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara are floating on thin ice
Like Dhawan and Vijay, much was also expected of vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane and the experienced Cheteshwar Pujara to support captain Kohli and lead India’s charge in England but they failed to a large extent. Pujara managed 278 runs in 4 Tests, including a knock of 132 not out at the Rose Bowl and Rahane fared even worse with 257 runs in his 10 outings at the crease.
Both Rahane and Pujara did not have too many runs in their kitty going into this series and were under pressure to deliver. The latter was even forced to sit out of the opening Test in Birmingham. Other than a few rare flashes of brilliance, the senior duo were generally flat and failed to capitalise on starts on more occasion than one.
What it essentially meant was that it eventually came down to Kohli to do the bulk of scoring and carry the Indian team on his shoulders. The team management will be hoping that Rahane and Pujara can soon rediscover their touch and complement captain Kohli in Australia.
4. Rishabh Pant can turn out to be India’s very own Adam Gilchrist in the long run
Wriddhiman Saha’s injury layoff was touted to be a lucky break for Dinesh Karthik and was his big chance to cement his place in the Indian Test side. But the veteran wicketkeeper-batsman failed miserably in the first two Tests as he looked completely out of sorts with the bat in particular. 20-year-old Rishabh Pant was thrust into the thick of things at Trent Bridge. The youngster looked shaky with his glovework behind the stumps but has certainly shown enough promise to be India’s long term first choice keeper.
After five lukewarm outings in the middle, Rishabh Pant the dasher finally came to the party when India were down in the dumps at Oval. The Delhi Daredevils star waltzed his way to a memorable maiden century which was brought up with a trademark six and his partnership with KL Rahul gave the Englishmen a mighty scare.
To cut it short, it is quite clear that Pant is a rare talent which needs to be preserved and nurtured. He will concede some byes, drop a few catches and even get out to a false shot on more occasion that one but he has the kind of talent which can serve Indian cricket well for a long long time.
5. Hardik Pandya is miles away from being a genuine all-rounder
Hardik Pandya has been handpicked and groomed as a genuine all-round options for the last two years and was expected to play a handy role with both bat and ball on the tour of England. However, the 24-year-old’s performances in the first 4 games before being dropped for the final Test showed that he is just not ready to fit the bill for India. At least for now that is.
Ben Stokes, despite being embroiled in the Bristol brawl controversy and only being half-fit, produced the goods for England and picked up some crucial wickets right through the series. Elsewhere, Sam Curran, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali also showed their multi-faceted skills and caused India a lot of grief at different points in the series.
Pandya did bowl a game-changing spell at Trent Bridge in Nottingham but was flat and looked out of sorts otherwise. With age on his side and Vijay Shankar as the only real alternative, chances are that Pandya will retain his place in the side for the mean time but Hanuma Vihari and Ravindra Jadeja might have just put his starting spot in serious doubt.
6. India’s fast bowling stocks have never been in healthier shape
Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s injury came at the worse possible time and gave India plenty of concerns as he is the premier swing bowler plying his trade in the country right now. India’s bowling performance, though, was top notch and the Indian fast bowlers even out-bowled their illustrious English counterparts in terms of pace and tenacity at times. Other than Alastair Cook and Joe Root‘s centuries in the final Test, England’s top order was put under constant pressure and skittled out for meagre scores several times in the series.
A veteran of more than 85 Tests, Ishant Sharma looked like a brand new bowler altogether and ended up as the highest wicket-taker for Virat Kohli’s side. Jasprit Bumrah quietly established himself as the unofficial leader of Indian bowling attack and produced a wicket every-time he was called up to bowl by his captain. Mohammad Shami put up a masterclass in beating the batsmen on innumerable instances but was often unlucky.
With Bhuvneshwar Kumar to come back in and Umesh Yadav also waiting in the reserves, Indian fast bowling stocks have never been in such impeccable state and taking 20 wickets is unlikely to be a problem in the near future. The inability to get England’s tailenders out after having the home side on a mat could be earmarked as the only real blot for Indian bowling at the end of this tour.
7. Ravi Shastri needs to drop his cheerleader act and start behaving like a real head coach
India’s tactics, field placements and team selections were put under the scanner throughout the duration of 5 Tests and rightly so. Captain Kohli has been questioned and criticised for his strange ways but coach Ravi Shastri also needs to get his share of the blame. The former skipper is known to share a warm relationship with Kohli and the duo are often seen as a the power-centre of Indian cricket at present.
However, Shastri’s role as the head coach needs to be analysed as he often comes across as a ‘Yes Man’ who just nods to Kohli’s whims and suggestions inside the dressing room. On the outside, he is seen giving thunderous press conferences and even labelled the current Indian side as the best touring side to have been assembled in the country in last 15-20 years. The statement was made fun of and widely ridiculed on the social media.
Whether Shastri was the right man to have been given such a high-profile role after Anil Kumble’s unceremonious exit last year remains anybody’s guess.