Opinion | India’s Test Win Over England Hides A Major Weakness

February 21,2024

A one-sided outcome buries the weaknesses of the winning team. The truth is, India’s demolition of England in Rajkot in the third Test of the ongoing five-match series is one such result. The winning margin of 434 runs, India’s highest ever by runs, surpassed the previous record of a 372-run win over New Zealand in Mumbai in 2021.

The emphatic Indian triumph was possible because of some fine performances. Opener Yashasvi Jaiswal struck 12 sixes in his unbeaten 214 in India’s second innings to equal Wasim Akram’s record of most sixes in a Test innings. Ravichandran Ashwin dismissed opener Zak Crawley in England’s first innings to pick up his 500th wicket in Test cricket. Ravindra Jadeja, who scored 112 in the first innings, ended the faint possibility of England’s resistance by picking up five wickets for 41 runs after the visitors had been asked to chase down an imposing target of 557 runs in the second innings.

Sarfaraz Khan scored two fifties on his debut. Skipper Rohit Sharma led from the front to score 131 in the first innings after India had lost the first three wickets with 33 on the board, and Shubman Gill fell short of a hundred by nine runs in the second. There were a lot more, such as Mohammad Siraj’s four-for in the first innings, as the home team made a powerful statement of overall superiority to register a famous win.

This Indian triumph, however, successfully conceals a significant shortcoming of the squad: the lack of experience in the batting line-up. The line-up consisted of Yashasvi Jaiswal, veteran Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Rajat Patidar, apart from the experienced all-rounder Jadeja, who batted at no. 5 in the first innings, Sarfaraz Khan and keeper-batsman Dhruv Jurel. Sharma has the required experience and ability that inspire confidence in a top-order Test batsman, although his contribution with the bat in Test matches has been far less impressive compared to his performance in the shorter formats. Gill is indisputably gifted, but statistics reveal his inability to justify his promise in the longer format. He has scored 1,292 runs in 23 Tests at an average of 32.30, which is mediocre for a batter who bats high up the order.

Patidar and Jurel have 40-plus batting averages in first-class matches, although 30-year-old Patidar has much more experience than Jurel, who is seven years younger. A good keeper, too, debutant Jurel’s start with the bat and behind the wickets has been promising, although the same is not true of Patidar, who failed with the bat in both innings in his second Test in Rajkot.

Sarfaraz Khan averages 70-plus in first-class matches, which justifies the belief that he should have played for India earlier. Khan showed what he is made of in his first appearance, more importantly in the second innings in which he surrendered the spotlight to Jaiswal and played the supporting role in their 172-run stand. Jadeja, who batted at no. 5 in the first innings, can score useful runs, attack relentlessly with his bowling, and give new instances of excellence with his world-class fielding. But, sending him out to bat at no. 5 is not a regular option without question.

Because India registered such an emphatic win, the lack of experience in the batting order, which had three players with one or no previous appearances, was ignored. What if, in other words, things had gone the other way in the match? This issue would have come up for discussion for sure. Of course, Virat Kohli is not available and KL Rahul has an injury. Moreover, every Indian Test squad cannot have a Fab Five consisting of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, and VVS Laxman in its batting order. That said, having three new players in the middle order does not make for great reading, despite their good track records — and in Khan’s case, a brilliant track record — in the far less challenging first-class circuit.

Although Jadeja won the Player of the Match award — the right choice — Jaiswal was the star with the bat on the fourth and last day of the match. Skipper Sharma said during the post-match presentation that he did “not want to talk a lot” about Jaiswal although he has started his career “on a high”. He might have been suggesting that the youngster, whose first three Test hundreds are 150-plus scores, must respond to the bigger challenge of being consistent for a long time.

As Indian cricket heads towards a new era, cricket lovers will watch closely as senior players make way for newcomers in the international arena. Such a change is inevitable, as is the fact that some players among these chosen ones will survive the test of time and others will fade away.