The 50-over World Cup at home is in October, giving the Indian cricket team some time for a win. | Photo Credit: AP
Where does Indian cricket stand? Stock-taking is a continuous process in sport, especially when a team loses. India have not lost a Test in Bangladesh, but if they did, there could be significant changes ahead of 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 may be approaching a generational shift in their batting even though some of the seniors are younger than when previous generations called it a day.
The 2-0 series win may have helped mask weaknesses in the team — remember this was India without Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja. A defeat may have brought about changes that the selectors were too timid to attempt.
There is no magic formula
There is no magic formula to decide if a player is over, or out of form. The great Virender Sehwag played his last Test at 34, VVS Laxman was playing at 37. Sachin Tendulkar was exceptional, played into his forties, but he made 23 Tests without a century in almost three years to the end. There is no magic formula.
The most surprising sight in the last Bangladesh Test at Mirpur was the uncertainty of India’s top order against spin. Only Shreyas Iyer looks comfortable following the first rule of playing spin — either fully backward or fully forward. The Indian batsmen were caught in between, and played more deliveries than they needed. This is a strategy that they can get through in white ball cricket but it will land them in trouble when the ball turns and there are close fielders waiting on the edge.
In recent years, India have struggled against the spin paradox considering the number of spinners available in domestic cricket. But very few of our internationals play domestic First Class cricket.
Dravidball, unlike Bazball, is defense-based, which means there is no designated hitter early in the order who can turn the pressure on Bangladesh. If Axar Patel is sent to No. 4 to strike or to protect Virat Kohli, it did not work as it should have, although he accumulated valuable runs.
It wasn’t until the 41st over, when Iyer took a punt to Shakib al Hasan and played him inside-out at extra cover that the stranglehold was broken. That, for India is the most important shot of the chase because it has a message: we are ready to take a chance. And it led to successive boundaries from both ends.
Ashwin at his best evokes VVS Laxman for his sense of timing and ability to absorb pressure. His entry at number nine spoke of India’s batting depth; that he needed to bat spoke of the weaknesses in the top half.
Did India relax earlier, allowing Bangladesh to not only climb out of a hole but dig one that almost trapped India in it? In the end, it didn’t matter for all the elements that 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 need to win three, if not all four Tests against Australia so that they are not dependent on other results.
This means that the selection must be ruthless and ad-hoc. Emotion cannot be allowed to rule – and if it means that any of KL 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 has a century, and an average of 45 from five Tests. These are not inspiring numbers, but all the same, you can’t drop the whole lot. The selectors are likely to have some of these for the opening Test and take it from there, which may 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 were nine matches against three opponents before India had to call.