The 'ROOT' of all troubles (Column: Close-in)

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By Yajurvindra Singh

India’s victory against England at Lord’s, the Mecca of cricket, was outstanding. It took one 50 years back to 1971 when India, under the captaincy of Ajit Wadekar, came close to beating England at the historic venue. India did finally manage a historical win in the last Test match at the Oval. It not only won them the series but was also their first Test win in England.

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The Indian cricket fans and followers in 1971 on an auspicious Ganpati day were glued to their transistor nervously listening to every run in chase of victory. A square cut to the fence by Abid Ali led to the bursting of crackers and outburst of celebration, which had been suppressed for nearly 40 years.

India played their first Test match at Lord’s in 1932 and the venue since has always had a close connection to Indian cricket. It was 50 years thereafter in 1983 that Kapil Dev and his band of merry men won India the World Cup and the balcony at Lord’s became the backdrop of India’s greatest win.

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The Lord’s Test match in 2021 was a see-saw battle that had all the ingredients of what makes Test cricket exciting for the true connoisseur of sport. The uncertainty of it was palpable on all the five days of the match and kept one absorbed thoroughly.

The root of India’s problem was England’s Joe Root, a one man army battling away to keep his side ahead. A captain who led from the front handsomely while batting but made many an error as captain on the field.

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England won the toss and Root opted to field, hoping to cash in on the cloudy conditions prevalent then. His bowlers rather than attacking India’s talented openers, Rohit Sharma and K.L. Rahul, bowled many of their deliveries outside the off stump.

It allowed the visiting batsmen to get a good insight into the pace and bounce of the pitch. However, the true reason behind Root opting to field was to protect his batsmen against the lethal Indian pace attack. India, known to produce spin magicians earlier, now have a cupboard full of pacers, who on a given day can competently replace one another.

India’s two match-winning spin bowlers, Axar Patel and Ravichandran Ashwin, who spun a web during India’s series win over England at home are sitting on the bench waiting to be unveiled. This they will do in this five-match series once the hot summer weather in England finally sets in.

One gets the feeling that England’s think-tank seemed so engrossed in strategising to get Virat Kohli’s wicket that they neglected the rest of the side. Root’s field placement and bowling changes have been questionable.

He let the Indian batsmen get easy runs through nudges to third man and the fine-leg region. One such bizarre error was when Sam Curran, their only left arm medium pacer, looked to extract swing. Instead of attacking with a leg-slip and a short-leg fielder, Root, decided to get the batsmen out in slips.

Rohit Sharma got two easy boundaries through snicks on the leg-side. These are the subtle on-field decisions that an astute captain makes that can change the course of the game. Innovative tactics is what Joe Root lacks as a captain, as everything cannot go according to a set plan finalised in the dressing room.

The match on the final day of the Test match at Lord’s looked to be in favour of England. Having dismissed Rishabh Pant early, England were all set to demolish the Indian tail, especially with the new ball in hand.

Cricket is a funny game. One can never underestimate the situation. England let their hair down and decided to make mickey out of Jasprit Bumrah by bowling bouncers to him. One was astonished and bewildered to see that the English bowlers had three slips and a gully to the top Indian batsmen, whereas they just had one catcher for Mohammed Shami and Bumrah.

The field set on all corners of the ground was one that even the likes of Gayle and Ben Stokes would have found difficulty in clearing against the England pace attack. The ridiculous part of it was that there was no fielder in the third man area, the most productive place for a tail-ender. Joe Root learned a very bitter lesson once India was in the driver’s seat. He did accept his folly in a statement later.

The batting success was all that was needed for Shami and Bumrah to get to their fiery best. They bowled beautifully and with the ever improving Mohammed Siraj as support, the English batsmen looked like rabbits caught in the glare of headlights.

Test cricket is serious business. Virat Kohli is the foremost promoter of this format. He is one of the most excitable and expressive captains that one has ever come across in cricket. He shows his emotions at the drop of a hat, which is a part of his personality. I feel it is just what Indian players require to egg them on.

His style and aggressive behaviour has been criticised by some. However, this is what gets him energised and charged and that augments well for Indian cricket.

The India versus England Test series has now been ignited into battle royale. India had got the better of Australia in a similar tussle earlier in the year. One hopes that they can stand up against the onslaught that one expects from England.

India’s only problem is the “ROOT of all troubles”! They need to keep the English captain at bay.

–IANS

ys/kh

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