Indian batsman KL Rahul drew the curtains on a closely contested series between India and Australia with a punch to midwicket. With that brace, Rahul had scored six fifties in the Test series, becoming only the first Indian batsman to do so since 1983. For a batsman who was pilloried as an “all or nothing” batsman having scored four hundreds and seven sub-16 scores in his first 11 innings, key contributions to the Indian cause must have been sweet, no doubt. At the end of the hard-fought series, Rahul’s show with the bat will count as yet another batting success for the Indian team.
That the Indian cricketing setup is obsessed with batting is an open secret. India’s biggest heroes in the Test arena are its champion batsmen. Ranging from Vijay Merchant to Vijay Hazare to Sunil Gavaskar to Sachin Tendulkar to Rahul Dravid to VVS Laxman to Virender Sehwag, India have been blessed with a bevy of bewitching batsmen.
The latest incarnation of the batting superstar is the captain of the Indian team in all three formats, Virat Kohli. After the golden generation in the 2000s, India’s next batting champion was duly anointed at the end of the India-England series, after Kohli scored 655 runs over eight innings. Another double hundred in the Bangladesh Test, and he had outscored Bradman and Rahul Dravid with four double hundreds in four successive series. Normal service had indeed resumed.
Somehow, this series didn’t go according to plan in terms of the batsmen. Kohli scored 46 runs in the series with an average of 9.2. The rest of the Indian batting, too, found the going difficult with the bowler-friendly pitches on offer (barring Ranchi). Only Cheteshwar Pujara and Rahul can be counted as batsmen who had a good run, each scoring over 390 runs in their seven innings. Sure, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha, and Ajinkya Rahane did make key contributions, but only the aforementioned two batsmen did well consistently throughout the series.
Fantastic bowling throughout series
The series was won on the basis of fantastic bowling. Barring the 451 runs scored by Australia in Ranchi, the Australians couldn’t rack up more than 300 runs in a single innings. India’s incisive bowling was the main reason why they got into advantageous positions throughout the series. In the Dharamsala Test, Australia were comfortable at 144/1 on the first afternoon before a Kuldeep Yadav-inspired bowling attack bundled them out for 300 – what would be later on termed as a below-par effort for the surface. In the second innings too, taking out three batsmen before the first innings deficit was wiped out contributed to the comfortable Indian victory on the fourth morning.
The other Test matches, too, had similar showings. Maxwell was dismissed at 331/5 in Ranchi, and India duly mopped up the rest of the wickets for 120 additional runs before propping up their Pujara-Saha inspired mammoth score. At 63/4 in the last innings, the Australians had to dig deep to stay alive in the series.
Similarly, in the Bengaluru Test, after India were bundled out for 189 in the first innings, it was their bowlers who limited the deficit to 87 runs. After the Pujara-Rahane show got the bowlers a reasonable target to defend, the Indian bowlers were at it again, snuffing out any remote chance of a victory.
It was an inspired show under duress, after Smith had told the press that they were a session or two away from regaining the Border-Gavaskar trophy. Even in the Pune Test, India had limited Australia to two sub-300 scores in spite of fielding lapses; it was their twin batting failures that had let them down.
In short, it was India’s bowling which shone throughout the series. Three bowlers snared more than 17 wickets each at less than 28 runs per dismissal. Of the players who have captained their sides for more than 20 Test matches, Virat Kohli is at the top of the W/L charts. Granted, he is yet to go through the complete tour circuit around the world, but his learnings from his tenure so far would have given him enough lessons about building a successful Test team.
Over the last 10 years, batsmen and bowlers have averaged between 33 and 34 runs per dismissal. The disparity due to batting and bowling averages is due to extras and dismissals such as run-outs. While the exact same numbers may not repeat all through cricketing history, the truism of taking 20 wickets win a Test match by bowling well ring loud and clear. In fact, the primacy of bowling in Test match success is quite obvious from the above table. Good batting performances usually occur in wins and draws, but more often than not, a victory in Test cricket is affected by an exceptional bowling unit.
In other words, good batting is mandatory not to lose a Test match, but is not alone sufficient to win it. With an ineffective bowling attack, it was no wonder that Indian teams led by Ganguly, Dravid, and Dhoni were unable to win more than a single Test per overseas series. It is still early days in Kohli’s captaincy, but it is safe to say that the bedrock of his team’s victories were due to the champion bowlers at summit of the Test rankings – Ashwin and Jadeja.
When India resumes touring duties against sides smarting from the Test reverses, in the 2017-’18 season, the think-tank needs to look no further from the blueprint of this 20-month-long Test run, and from earlier successful teams. In the earlier W/L list, only six captains among the top 25 had a bowling unit that averaged more than 30 runs per dismissal. Simply put, India needs to assemble a similarly effective bowling unit if it has to be successful in unfriendly overseas conditions as well.
PaajivsPunter is an anonymous collaborative blog. They write opinion pieces, commentary, perspectives, satire, analytical features and long-form narratives on cricket.