By Yajurvindra Singh
The failure of batsmen performing in day/night Test matches and on seaming and turning pitches has brought a very important aspect of the game into discussion — technique.
Indian batsmen in England and New Zealand struggled to play the moving ball in the air or off the wicket. Similarly, English batsmen’s disappointing performance on turning pitches in India brought into the limelight the inadequate technique that visiting sides come with.
One feels enough has been said and debated over as to how a batsman can play and prepare oneself in conditions that are different for them. Sitting 70 yards away and talking about why one fails or succeeds is far easier than a player facing the opposition out in the middle.
The third India-England Test match in Ahmedabad had former cricketers and commentators blasting through social, digital, print, and television media their views as to how batters need to play in these difficult conditions. Most of them during their playing days fell victim exactly the same way.
The wicket at the Narendra Modi Stadium was severely criticised for not being of Test standard, after the match got over in less than two days. India came out winners on a spinning wicket, similar to the one in Chennai in the previous Test match. India, with the way England bowled and batted in Chennai, found the Achilles heel of the English side and so quite understandably chose to expose it to the hilt.
The wicket was therefore, prepared to cater to India’s strength. England should have foreseen that, especially after the way they had embarrassed India in the first Test match by comprehensively defeating them. England were on a roll, having beaten Sri Lanka earlier and to lose the momentum, thereafter, speaks very little about their approach and selection policies.
The rotation policy may be good for players to let them have a break. However, when a professional cricketer who is playing for the honour of his country is sent home when required the general feeling that emanates is that one is not taking the importance of the situation seriously. England needed their best XI on the field playing against a strong Indian side. The game of cricket is a cruel sport when one does not respect it and England got severely punished for it. They lost the opportunity to qualify for the World Test Championship (WTC) final at Lord’s, London, something that looked possible at one stage.
India, after losing the first Test match, needed to win not only to get their pride back but also to qualify for the WTC final. They needed to prepare a wicket that would best suit them and were willing to take that risk to ensure a result. This could have gone awry and therefore one has to compliment the Indian think tank to have taken a gamble that has proved to be a master move.
India came out fully charged and full throttle ahead to make good use of the playing conditions they had put into place. England, on the other hand, with an uncertain and untested batting line-up in Indian conditions, because of their humane policies of chopping, changing, and resting players, lost their momentum and are now a side that looks ‘shaken and stirred’.
One cannot blame players as the main issues that confront all touring sides is the lack of playing practice matches ahead of an important Test match. The paucity of time and accommodating the limited overs games has compelled countries to play back-to-back Test matches. This does not give players enough time to acclimatise. It is great to squeeze as many Test matches as possible into a tight scheduled tour, but unfortunately, it’s very difficult for players to recover once they are struggling and down and out.
Every country has different surfaces and conditions to bat and bowl on, and players need time to adjust to those conditions. This is why winning overseas becomes a very difficult proposition. Therefore, practice matches are essential for players to adapt and if necessary alter their technique before they are thrown into the deep end of playing a Test match. Expecting players to modify their technique in the middle of the tour or during an important match is a very difficult task. This is where the English batters have failed and so will players from other countries when they tour.
Lively wickets make watching cricket rather interesting, as uncertain conditions make the battle between the bat and the ball exciting for the viewer, but dreadful for those out in the centre. This is when one has seen innings of brilliance and character. Innovative stroke players fare better than the conventional straight-forward batters.
India have had some exceptional players in the last 50 years of Test cricket, the likes of G.R. Viswanath, Mohammed Azharuddin, V.V.S. Laxman, Virender Sehwag, who all flourished on wickets that behaved like a minefield to bat on. Rohit Sharma reminded one of having the same set of skills like the legends. His 161 runs in the second Test match and 66 runs in the next was what differentiated the two sides. Both these knocks were match winning performances, as one did not need superlative skills to get wickets, as much as to bat when the ball was spitting in all directions. Rohit has always been criticised as one who had glorious shots but lacked the technique.
The Decision Review System has made batting even more difficult on unpredictable surfaces. The pad — the second line of defence that a batsmen used earlier to play spinners on a turning track — has now become a dicey option. Statistics show that after the introduction of the DRS, the LBW way of getting batsmen out has doubled. Test matches, therefore, are not lasting five days in most cases. Gradually, this will become a bone of contention for sponsors and the commercial viability of hosting Test matches.
A two-day match is a disaster for all concerned except the victor. One can elaborate on it and sum it up as: it happens due to players with inadequate technique and patience. For me it would lead to the end of Test match cricket if matches keep finishing in such a short duration and are not taken seriously by countries playing it.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)