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India need to approach Test series cautiously, not aggressively (Column: Close-in)

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By Yajurvindra Singh

An evens stevens is how the limited overs T20 and the ODI series between India and Australia ended. Australia won the ODI and India the T20. The Test series is what the world of cricket is looking forward to. Australia, who head the World Test Championship and India on being relegated to the second spot was solely on the basis of the new criteria to calculate the rankings. The championship started with the points system and because of the effect of the pandemic on cricket activities, it moved towards a percentage calculation.

India were well clear on points and looked certain to qualify for the final, but with ICC’s new formula has India playing two of the toughest opponents in England and Australia. India will require to win at least one of the series and will also need to ensure that they do not get beaten comprehensively, if they lose any one of them.

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The importance of the Australian tour is predominantly for only one major issue and that is the Test series. The limited overs matches were there for the financial and commercial reasons, especially as Australian cricket is reeling under a major financial crisis. Unfortunately, the itinerary of matches for India because of the strict quarantine and safety norms made it difficult for them to get enough practice games.

India, therefore, will be going into the first Test match in Adelaide a trifle low on preparation. The first three-day practice game against Australia ‘A’ had enough evidence to show that the Indian batting of some of the young aspirants struggled against the bounce that the Australian pitches offered.

One did get a similar impression about the Indian batsmen even in the limited overs matches. The pink and red ball have shown that they differ from the white ball in the way in which they behave over an innings and the Indian batsmen and bowlers will need to adjust to it rapidly. With just one match for many of the Indian top players to get into their stride, they will need to depend on their previous experience to get them through it.

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India, unfortunately, are in the midst of several problematic issues as regards their Test side. Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar their two astute pace bowlers will not be there. Rohit Sharma, will be missing the initial two Test matches; he has been pronounced fit to travel to Australia in a few days. There will be a big question mark even then as without any match practice it would be unfair to drop a player in order to accommodate Rohit just on his past performances. The BCCI has erred in not sending him with the rest of the squad as the 14 days quarantine requirement in Australia now becomes another barrier for him to cross.

The man who captured the hearts of the Indian followers was Hardik Pandya with his sterling performance in the limited overs matches. He seemed to be at ease on the Australian pitches and the speed and bounce helped him in his stroke play. Unfortunately, he has not been fit to bowl to give India his all-round contribution. He has been away from his new born son and family for the past four months and he does deserve to be back home with them after the magnificent performances he displayed for India.

India’s other all round cricketer, Ravindra Jadeja, is unfortunately on the injured list and will be missing the first and second Test matches. This is a big blow for India as India will be without a left-arm finger spinner and a more than useful lower order batsman. The absence of Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja will compel the Indian side to select a bowler who cannot bat and a batsman who cannot bowl, a situation that most teams dread while picking their XI.

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India will rely on Jasprit Bhumra and Mohammed Shami for wickets and one was therefore surprised as to why Bhumra was not played in any of the T20 matches, especially as he had just about got his outswinger in place. One felt he needed to play a few more games to get it working effectively. Maybe the long drawn IPL schedule needed both the Indian frontline bowlers to get enough rest before the four Test match series. This could be a useful tactic but India need them firing on all cylinders from the very first ball of the first Test match. They need to get their act in place then or else India will be chasing some very big totals as both spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav, have not shown any venom in their bowling so far.

The biggest dent in the Indian side will be the absence of Virat Kohli after the first game. Although, Cheteshwar Pujara was the backbone of India’s historic series win in 2018-19, both Rahane and Pujara do not have the ability to change gears of their innings in the way Kohli exhibits.

A team in order to win also needs to put up a big total quickly for them to then get enough time to bowl out opponents. India, unfortunately, without Kohli after the first Test as well as Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, and Rishabh Pant, do not have the big hitters to accelerate the pace of the innings at the end. The situation for India at present is such that one feels that they need to play more cautiously towards ensuring not losing the series rather than playing aggressively to win it. Test cricket is a game of war where one needs to assess one’s strengths and weaknesses equally. India are starting off on the backfoot with both their flanks open for their opponents to exploit.

It will be interesting how India approach this series. A watchful and conservative approach will be more prudent than an aggressive one. This could be difficult with a captain who believes in going for the jugular from the outset.

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)

–IANS

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