When Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja walked out into the middle on day five at Rajkot and found themselves ringed by the enemies, they looked like characters straight out of a drama who were forced to play a role different from what they were supposed to act out in the original script.
With three fielders on the onside, three on the off, the wicketkeeper all crouched down just behind the stumps and the slow bowlers holding the hand grenade with a wicked smile, the scene looked familiar but roles reversed. Normally, especially in the recent times, it was always the other way around when a Test got closer to the curtain call, with either Ashwin or Jadeja prancing around gleefully with the ball in hand for the victim-in-waiting to walk into the ring and take guard as Wriddhiman Saha scrooched down behind the stumps and a cocky Virat Kohli egged on his army and the crowd to up the ante.
Aswhin and Jadeja played their unexpected roles rather well in the final session of the Rajkot Test. Both of them could bat a bit, but that’s not what they were normally expected to do on day five of a Test played in India.
Rajkot may have brought the old-world charm back into Test cricket. A good pitch for the batsmen on days one and two, a bit of purchase for the unrelenting bowler who were ready to bend their back pretty consistently, turn and bounce on day four and five and a hint of hope for one side and a desperate struggle for survival for the other right up to the last over of the match. Unfortunately, in modern times such beautiful things of the past are relevant only for the statisticians. Not for the crowds.
For obvious reasons, England coach Trevor Bayliss is happy with the effort put in by England at Rajkot and termed the performance of the team under his command as the best since he has been with England. Coming as it did within a few days of their disastrous show in the second Test against Bangladesh, and amid doom predictions before the start of the series, England have plenty of positives from the first Test to feel “a lot of confidence”, as Joe Root summed up the mood post match, going into the second Test at Visakhapatnam on November 17.
Four of their key players have scored centuries and their spinners looked better than the famed Indian quartet. Still, what Bayliss and Cook need not overlook is the fact that it was one of the worst performances the young Indian team had put in under the new leader.
Kohli lost the toss for the first time at home. The fielding was disastrous: five caches were dropped in the first innings, of which three inside the first seven overs. The pitch offered nothing much to the spinners in the first innings. England put more than 500 runs on the board. Ashwin, Jadeja and Amit Mishra couldn’t do the kind damage they were capable of in the second innings. England posted a victory target in excess of 300 runs that was out of reach for India inside a minimum of 49 overs so Cook could attack without the fear of losing the match. Despite odds stacked against them, India drew the game and, in the process, found out, as Kohli would say, “other aspects about our game”.
Habituated to getting things done inside four days or quite early on day five and criticised for the inability to show patience required to draw a game, the team under Kohli will be turning up at Visakhapatnam with their feet rooted in the reality of the Rajkot kind and armed with a new can-do belief and confidence. Curator Kasturi Sriram has hinted at the possibility of turn right from day two. That, plus the return of KL Rahul to open the innings along with Murali Vijay, could be a recipe for disaster for Cook and Co.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman