Before going to South Africa, India played Afghanistan in Bengaluru and won the one-off Test by their biggest-ever margin till then, an innings and 262 runs in two days. After losing the five-Test series 1-4 in England, India returned to score a massive innings and 272 runs victory against West Indies inside three days at Rajkot!
It is all scripted so beautifully, and as anticipated. South Africa and England are forgotten by the time the Indians returned from the Gulf with the Asia Cup and now they decimated the Caribbean. The result was foregone and everyone treating it as a practice game before embarking on the tougher tour of Australia.
This was a Test in which every Indian player was eager to grab the opportunity to score big or take handful of wickets. Some are fighting for a place in the squad for down under and those the selectors overlooked, some seniors, are cursing themselves, their luck and the selectors for their misery.
In these hits and misses, one youngster stood out, creating a record or two on his debut. Opening batsman Prithvi Pankaj Shaw, the 18-year-old got a hundred in his first Test and in style at that, becoming the youngest Indian to do so on debut.
Skipper Virat Kohli justified Shaw’s inclusion in the side, saying the Mumbaikar is a ‘different quality’. Just as well the team management did not rush him into the Oval Test and played against the West Indies. This century will make him a lot more confident on the bouncy Australian pitches on which he can hook, pull and cut with refreshing freedom.
The run-out drama enacted by Ravindra Jadeja, when he took it for granted that Shimron Hetmyer would not make an attempt to get to the non-striker’s end when both the batsmen were at the other end and nearly muffed the chance by slowly walking to the wicket before realizing the batsman was charging down, is symptomatic of the seriousness of the Test.
At the end of it all, Kohli still carries the burden of scoring big runs and others will play around him. He scored his 17th hundred as captain to add to his seven he got before. For him runs come naturally because he takes every attack seriously and will not fool around against inferior bowling.
The West Indies were never in the game. Even if they had batted first they would not have fared any better except that the Indians might have taken the Test into the third day, batting for two days. They batted as if they were in the nets preparing for the second Test, charging down to tonk the bowlers. Some of the sixes they hit might have given them the kick but it was not Test cricket.
The West Indies can turn back and say that exactly a year before India were walloped this summer, they had beaten England at the Oval with Shai Hope scoring a century in each innings and Kraigg Brathwaite missing the distinction by five runs in the second innings, chasing 322 for victory. There is still hope for their batsmen to show their potential, but then it may not be easy to do on Indian wickets against Indian spin.
Now that the selectors have chosen the team for both the Tests, there is little scope for Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma to show their performance like Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav did in Rajkot, scoring first Test hundred and returning with his first fifer respectively.
But then the selectors’ argument will be that there is nothing they need to know about the players who did not get a chance to play in the two Tests and they can still be in contention. The chief selector Mannava Sri Kanth Prasad spoke to Karun Nair and explained to him the circumstances for dropping from the squad for the West Indies Tests. Will that mean he will still be in contention for a place in the Australia-bound squad without playing a match?
Right now, the 50-over Vijay Hazare tournament is on and the performances here may not be of much use for Test selection, though they can be considered for the Twenty20 format with which the Indians start their tour of Australia.
As for bowlers, there are no fears, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah will join Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav and they might add one young fast bowler, either Mohammed Siraj or Shardul Thakur both of whom are in the Test squad now. Luckily, there seem to be quite a few fast bowlers trying to impress the selectors and that’s a good sign.
The three spinners, who played at Rajkot, will be there in Australia, even though Ravichandran Ashwin has problems bowling with the Duke ball. That means no place for Kohli’s favourite Yajuvendra Chahal will remain a One-day specialist.
These days every player, who gets runs or returns with wickets, swear by the team management, saying they have been given the freedom to bat the way they naturally do and experiment they way they want while bowling.
All this talk in the run up to the big tour will make for good sound bites.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])