What is common between the 2016 and 2021 home Test series against England, apart from the fact that both were ultimately bagged? Then too, India did not win the series opener. And every time that happened, the pitch for the next match automatically earned a higher rank in the conversation. Fueling similar anticipation, the surface at Visakhapatnam looks brown, if not a bit dry. Also, Jack Leach hasn’t trained, and almost every Indian batter brought out the reverse sweep in a clear attempt to correct previous wrongs. Just one Test in and rarely have India looked as busy as they do now for a home series. It makes sense though. Not being able to chase 231 was a wake-up call with India never needing to score more than 172 in the fourth innings at home — incidentally against England, in 2016 — in the last 10 years. When they were pressed to cross 200 though, the batters succumbed. Some, like Shubman Gill, were guilty of prodding at a flighted ball without showing any footwork.
Which is why Rahul Dravid was seen trying to take Gill through the process of playing spin, showing him how to use his long stride to dead bat the ball after spending enough time tuning his range. Gill has had somewhat of a torrid run, not scoring a fifty in 11 innings. Also under the pump is Yashasvi Jaiswal who didn’t look to bide his time in a tricky chase. But the management is willing to cut them slack. “There are young batters in our team who have not played much Test cricket. So, we need to be a bit patient with them. Batters like Gill, Jaiswal and (Shreyas) Iyer will eventually start getting big runs, I’m sure of it,” India batting coach Vikram Rathour said at the press conference on Wednesday. Defeats like Hyderabad tend to question almost everything that India have done right till now, but the thinktank is clearly not panicking.
And it starts with not wavering from their brand of batting. “There’s a difference between playing with intent and playing attacking cricket. I want them to play with intent. If there is the opportunity to score some runs, they should take it,” said Rathour. “They need to decide by looking at the surface and conditions. So, the batters need to possess that intelligence as to which is the best or safest shot on the surface. Could they have batted with more discipline? Maybe they could have. That’s what they need to decide and come up with their plans. But they need to score runs by playing their shots, as you need to back your strengths.
Batting is always about scoring runs. It’s not about not getting out but how many runs you put on the board,” he said. With that mindset, it might get difficult to choose between Rajat Patidar and Sarfaraz Khan if India persist with two pacers.
Khan brings with him a solid reputation as a sweeper, but he hardly deployed that shot during nets. More engaging though was Patidar, who came ahead of Khan and spent more time at the nets trying every shot in the book. Dravid is known to be a stickler for chronology in terms of travelling with the squad and ultimately getting a chance, so right now Patidar looks to have the edge over Khan, who has only recently joined the group. “On this kind of wickets, I think they can really add a lot of value to the team,” Rathour said about Patidar and Khan. “If we have to pick just one of them, of course, it would be tough. But that decision will be made by Rahul Dravid and Rohit.”.
Also set to replace Ravindra Jadeja is Kuldeep Yadav, who incidentally played the first reverse sweep during India’s practice session. That was just to get a feel though as he quickly settled into bowling strict lines, preparing himself for a role he has barely got till now. Bowling in tandem with Ashwin isn’t easy, especially at home where Yadav has leaked runs in the past. But with the pitch set to come into play — Rathour believes it should assist turn, if not on Day 1, eventually — Yadav’s tempters could just be the need of the hour against batters willing to push the envelope.