A detailed analysis on the contrasting performances of India and England and their captains.
With India and England scheduled to play 9 Test matches between them in a calendar year, a brewing rivalry, constant comparisons and indefinite match-ups were always set to be the chatter around the cricketing world.
The richness of a game played over 5 days provides an intriguing duality of being all-encompassing within itself yet so highly wrapped with context. As the year has progressed, so has the understanding of the teams, their inherent characteristics, strengths and possible weaknesses.
Team India, over the past 3 years, have carved a new template for themselves, traveling with a barrage of quick bowlers and honing quality spinners for sub-continental conditions, reliable batsmen and a line-up studded with match winners. Results? India have won 59 per cent of the Tests played since January 2019 and drew 13 per cent including the two historic wins of the Border-Gavaskar trophy in Australia.
England, on the other hand, have been led by a few key players outperforming others in the setup time and again to bring home important wins. Although the team is struggling to find a consistent top-order since the retirement of Alastair Cook, having tried 13 different players at the top in the three-year period since his retirement. Notably, none of them has averaged more than mid-30s which is a cause of concern. This, coupled with their rest and rotation policy and numerous injuries, has greatly hindered the balance of the team going into the current series.
A captain’s innings
The role of a captain is probably one of the most prominent in the game of cricket, deciding whom to bowl, which field to set, what line of attack to pursue are all responsibilities shouldered by the functionary. However, apart from the regulatory role, a captain also sets the intentions of the team, its mentality, style and character, he breeds how they play and what they feed off.
Oiling the Run-machine
Although India have been winning more games than they are not and still stand as the predicted favourites for the series, they are not without their problems. Their key batsmen, middle-order giants in Pujara, Kohli and Rahane are struggling to find runs in English conditions, averaging a lowly of 30.94, 27.15 and 21.05 respectively since the start of 2020. Of course, Cheteshwar Pujara scored a vital 91 in the second inning of the Leeds Test and Virat Kohli scored a measured 55 in the same essay but there is much more to be desired from them for making an effective impact on their team’s performance.
More often than not despite the obvious holes, the team has been able to bootstrap its way towards favourable results. But with the innings loss in Leeds, the issue now seems more prominent than ever.
Let’s take a look at Virat Kohli’s performance in the current Test series.
Virat Kohli, the titled “run-machine”, India’s captain and best batsmen in the team, not only hasn’t scored a century in almost two years but is averaging one of the lowest amongst batsmen batting between 1-7 in world cricket.
Virat Kohli, who had made two significant changes post his dreaded 2014 tour of England where he averaged 13.4 across 5 Tests played, seems to have let the old issues creep back in.
Although, he has maintained his technique to bat outside the crease is for negating the late swing, the adjustment in his stance to a more side on position seems to be changed to a slightly more open one making him once again vulnerable to balls outside the off-stump.
The heroics of Joe Root
Joe Root seemingly in career best form has now scored 3 consecutive centuries in the three Tests against India, placing his yearly tally at 6 (including 2 double hundreds and a 180*) with 5 scheduled Tests still to go. He is currently averaging 66.57 in 2021 and an astonishing 101.4 in the series.
At the absolute top of his game, Root is scoring freely through his dominant areas on the leg side and third man region, playing the ball late and scoring off good deliveries. In the just concluded Leeds Test, his free form helped ease pressure off Dawid Malan and eventually they strung together a partnership of 139 runs. For the most part, Joe Root has been holding the team together with his batting and single-handedly carrying the game through the sheer weight of his performances.
Root's contribution in England's innings
England, going into the fourth Test of the series, seem to rely less on Joe Root, the batsman with Dawid Malan and top order showing glimpse of return of form. However, nothing lesser than a great innings could be asked from a player who's been into the form of his life. Root would be eager to make the most of the time and register his name into the record books.
Chris Woakes most likely to strengthen their bowling unit in the fourth Test, the home team should be riding on a wave of confidence post the dominant victory at Headingley, Leeds.
On the other hand, India have come a full circle post the 1-4 loss in 2018, where Virat Kohli contributed the bulk of the runs for the team. Over the three years period, India have built their reputation through consistent, all-round performances home and away. Excluding the first innings batting collapse, India would hope to take positives from Pujara and Kohli’s finding of form and put in a complete performance, they have worked so hard to achieve.