TThe east tours of India are overwhelming. The conditions, the unfamiliarity, the intensity of interest. More discouraging just after a team from India lacking 10 first-choice players won a test series in Australia, the other most difficult mission in world cricket. With England arriving for four tests in Chennai and Ahmedabad, what can the latest result from India warn them to watch out for?
Pujara will hit forever
When India won Australia in 2018-19, Cheteshwar Pujara made three centuries in four Tests to be the batting core. When India won two years later, they looked out of shape. Lots of false shots around Nathan Lyon’s return, edges to the cord from the pace, repeatedly hit by the short ball and barely half runs.
And yet he still hit longer and more deliveries than anyone else – nearly 23 hours in the fold for 928 balls. The Australians weren’t worried that he wasn’t scoring, but he allowed others to score around him. The Pujara danger is so stealthy that you may not recognize it exists. You are leaving before you know it. The problem is, knowing the danger still won’t help unless you have a solution.
Don’t live your life to spin
Teams that travel to India get carried away. They think of spinning squads like Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Venkataraghavan, and they think they need to prepare their own equipment. That doesn’t help unless your spinners are up to the task. England has Dom Bess and Jack Leach, modest county guys who do well on the Ciderabad courses of Somerset, and Moeen Ali, who hasn’t played a test since looking like a broken bowler in the opener of Ashes of 2019.
All three are finger manipulators, which might be too close, with the only wrist-twist option being Mason Crane among the listed reserves beyond the extended squad. It can be helpful for England to pick the best bowlers rather than pick by style.
Beware of a team with options
India’s position is the reverse. Australia is a graveyard for visiting spinners, but the once-Ravichandran Ashwin played like a dream. On 377 proving grounds, it can load past 400 before Lyon comes off 399. Washington Sundar scored four and a half-century wards in its debut as an off-road off-road. Kuldeep Yadav is a good left arm wrist spinner, Axar Patel is a left arm orthodox. Ravindra Jadeja may return later in the series.
In terms of hitting against England’s spin, only Joe Root has credentials. In Asia it averages more than any other continent, but Ben Stokes, Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Moeen and Chris Woakes average less than 30. The first few days for some, but a concern. The thing is, times have changed.
Sometimes Indian terrains produce faster grassy covers, with the luxury of bowling. Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah are back from injury, Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur impressed in Australia, and the all-rounder Hardik Pandya can be hot. Planning for effects only can get you in trouble. And if you think you can rock India’s hitting with speed, they’ve just thrived against guys named Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, and Josh Hazlewood. Those times have also changed.
Foot to the ground
Speaking of pace, take speed to score. England’s last tour of India was defined by scale: if England hit 400 first, India hit 600 second. What the Indians have now is the opportunity to change the game with RPMs like never before.
Virender Sehwag was revealing but he worked alone. India will have Rohit Sharma opening with the new Shubman Gill, a hitting duo that won’t stop. Virat Kohli has more gears than anyone else, due to its harvests in different formats and locations. Rishabh Pant as a wicketkeeper has undergone close tests despite his youth and junior position. And while Indian teams can be lizard-like in their propensity for tail dropping, Sundar and Thakur proved in Brisbane that they can score proper runs at high speed. On a day when the entire lineup clicks, may the gods closest to you be merciful.
Don’t tell yourself
With things to worry about, there is also a reason not to worry. Whatever things are unlikely to happen, the odds are outweighed. India just proved it. Who wins a tour in which a team goes through 20 players, months away from home in quarantine conditions and is eliminated by the lowest score in the country in the first match? Sure, England will face her in the India patch and the teams don’t match. But continuing with confidence despite all the reasons for not doing so is what India did. Better to flatter them with imitation.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism