Where does Indian cricket stand? Stock-taking is a continuous process in sport, especially when a team loses. India didn’t lose a Test in Bangladesh, but had they done so, there might have been significant changes before the next Test, against Australia in Nagpur in February.
Just as newcomers deserve a chance to succeed, old-timers deserve a chance to fail. India might be approaching a generational shift in their batting even if some of the seniors are younger than when previous generations called it a day.
The 2-0 series win might have helped cover up weaknesses in the team — remember this was India without Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja. A defeat might have brought in changes the selectors are too timid to try.
No magic formula
There is no magic formula to decide whether a player is past it, or merely out of form. The great Virender Sehwag played his last Test at 34, V.V.S. Laxman was playing at 37. Sachin Tendulkar was exceptional, playing on into his forties, but he went 23 Tests without a century in almost three years at the end. There’s no magic formula.
Quite the most startling sight in the final Bangladesh Test at Mirpur was the Indian top order’s uncertainty against spin. Shreyas Iyer alone looked comfortable for following the first rule of playing spin — either go fully back or fully forward. Indian batsmen were caught in-between, and played more deliveries than they needed to. It is a strategy they could have got away with in white ball cricket but it was bound to land them in trouble when the ball was turning and there were close-in fielders waiting for the edge.
In recent years, India have struggled against spin which is ironic considering the number of spinners available in domestic cricket. But then so few of our internationals play domestic First Class cricket.
Dravidball, unlike Bazball, is based on defence, which meant that there was no designated hitter early in the order who could have put the pressure back on Bangladesh. Whether Axar Patel was sent in at No. 4 to strike or to protect Virat Kohli, it didn’t work as it should have, although he accumulated valuable runs.
It wasn’t until the 41st over, when Iyer took a punt on Shakib al Hasan and played him inside-out over extra cover that the stranglehold was broken. That, for India was the most important shot of the chase for it came with a message: we are willing to take a chance. And it led to a spate of boundaries from either end.
Ashwin at his best evokes V.V.S. Laxman for his sense of timing and ability to absorb pressure. His coming in at number nine spoke of India’s depth in batting; that he had to bat at all spoke of weaknesses in the top half.
Did India relax earlier, allowing Bangladesh not just to climb out of a hole but dig one that nearly trapped India in it? In the end, this didn’t matter for all the elements contributed to an exciting Test match.
The points system means that every match is consequential. If India hope to play in the final of the World Test Championship (WTC) next year, they have to win three, if not all four Tests against Australia so they are not dependent on other results.
This means that the selection has to be ruthless and ad-hoc. Sentiment cannot be allowed to rule – and if it means any of K.L. Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli or another senior has to be dropped, then the selectors have to make that call.
This year, Kohli averaged 26.5 from six Tests, Rahul 17.12 from four, Rohit 30 from two. Cheteshwar Pujara had a century, and an average of 45 from five Tests. These are not inspiring figures, but equally, you cannot drop the whole lot. The selectors will probably have some of them for the opening Test and take it on from there, which might be the sensible thing to do.
Test cricket is India’s immediate concern. The 50-over World Cup at home is in October, giving them some breathing time. There are nine matches against three opponents before India have to make a call.