India's Bench Strength in Tests - Best it has ever been?
Brad Hodge is in the news for all the wrong reasons these days. However, this was not always the case with the biggest of Australia’s ‘could-have-been’ batsmen. The 42-year-old played a minuscule amount of six tests for the Australian test team of the 2000s.
His stats – two fifties and one double hundred with an average of 55.88 and a total of nine excellent catches. Brad Hodge never got a chance to play for the national team thereafter. Why would that happen though?
Injury? No. He was as fit as one can get.
Bad form? Not really. The man had an average that touched 56.
Retirement? Hell no. He’s still playing in the Big Bash League.
The reason behind his sacking was that he wasn’t good enough for the Australian test team then. The Victorian cricketer, with a humungous average and terrific fielding skills, couldn’t cut it to one of the best playing XI cricket has ever seen.
While one might be
a tad overboard in comparing the current Indian test team to the mighty Australians lead by Steve Waugh, a similar situation does persist in its current squad. The best that some players with impressive averages and strike rates can do is carry drinks for the eleven men on the field.
Forced substitution isn’t a worry for Virat Kohli anymore, it’s an opportunity! Not only has the team collated genuinely strong batsmen, but has also enhanced its bowling unit. With keepers diving and fielders running batsmen out, the fielding has been better than it ever was.
Let’s look at the palpable strength and depth the Indian test squad boasts of today.
The ‘fast’ factor!
India’s fast bowling has always exuded an ambiguous wariness. Its font size and boldness might’ve changed regularly, but the question mark has been omnipresent with respect to the seam attack. Today, it does seem like it can be erased once and for all!
Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami – these four names have been a part of the playing XI for the past 13 tests across different occasions, with different combinations. None of them has disappointed.
While his face-making might not indicate so, but Ishant Sharma is the most senior bowler amongst the Indian quicks today and he has bowled like one this season. He has given his heart to every delivery and has led the pack like a man on a mission.
Sharma looks to get under his opponent’s skin and into the wooden sticks behind their willows. He has done everything right and although he does not have a plethora of wickets to advocate for the same, the tight pressure he has consistently maintained from one end has generated wickets for his bowling partners.
Kumar and Shami might’ve been in and out of the team, but have made their presence felt in the ‘ins’ of these times. Kumar bowled efficiently at Dharamsala and scalped two wickets in the match – one of which was Steve Smith, probably the most important one of the entire series. He bowled nasty bouncers at David Warner and whistled past the likes of Matt Renshaw.
For someone whose career has been bedevilled by injuries, Shami has displayed strong gut and grit. He bowled like a hero in India’s series win against West Indies last year. His nasty spells in tests against New Zealand and England played decisive roles in India sealing both the series monumentally.
A hamstring injury pulled him out of the action thereafter, but Shami’s knowledge ranges not only in swinging the ball both ways but he also knows how to make a raging comeback after injuries.
However, the fast bowler of the Indian season has been Yadav. He has been an absolute revelation. He has bowled with his heart on his sleeve, and his pace, which was always fiery, has now mingled with control, to make it a lethal weapon in his arsenal.
His bowling in the Australia series is one of the biggest talking points and he has shown that the more he plays, the fitter he gets! The Vidharba player is definitely here to stay.
The ‘bat’ saga!
Indian test batting has never been weak, but the batting line-up had fallen into the trap of sudden collapses recently. However, the batsmen are settled and steady for now. They look ready to take the challenge head on. In the recently concluded series against Australia, they have proven that they can win without Kohli’s massive double hundreds.
While Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, KL Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane and Kohli have sustained their top performances to some extent, the newer batsmen haven’t disappointed as well. In fact, they have given such strong-willed performances that they have blocked the entry of both of India’s limited format openers in the test side!
Karun Nair, with his pathbreaking triple hundred against England, has etched his name in the history of the game. Wriddhiman Saha, who was considered to be a travesty of MS Dhoni, is India’s fourth highest run-scorer this season and that too, with three crucial hundreds.
The only batsman who hasn’t created any impact on this home season is Abhinav Mukund. However, he did make a comeback into the test team after five and a half years. That, in itself, is an achievement worth a mention.
Shreyas Iyer, the newest kid on the block, was included in the squad for the fourth test against Australia as a replacement for Kohli. He did not get a chance to be a part of the playing XI, but the call-up must’ve been a huge confidence boost for the Mumbai batsman.
He scored 725 runs in the last Ranji season with an average of 42.64 and looks to be an exciting prospect for the future.
The sass of the spin!
There was a time in the recent past of Indian cricket when Ravi Ashwin was considered to be the only genuine spinner in every squad. Today, Ravindra Jadeja has proven that spin bowling in the country need not stop at Ashwin only. Moreover, Kuldeep Yadav, Jayant Yadav and Amit Mishra have proved that there’s more to the story than Ashwin and Jadeja.
It’s a beautiful set of paradoxes, isn’t it?
The spin quartet has done its job time and again in India’s last four test series. While Ashwin and Jadeja are consistently swapping the No. 1 test bowler tag, every third spinner has proved to be worth the risk, whenever Kohli picked that additional spinner.
Jayant Yadav, who picked nine wickets in three tests against England, also surprised one and all with this exceptional century against them while batting at no.9. Kuldeep Yadav, with four wickets in his debut match in Dharamsala, has grabbed eyeballs from all around the world.
It’s no longer just Ashwin-Jadeja, is it?
The captain cover!
The best part about India’s strong bench strength is that it not only has worthy substitutes for its playing XI, but also for its captain! When Kohli had to sit out in the final and decisive test against Australia, Rahane took the captaincy reigns from him.
The two captains have nothing in common, apart from the desire to win. That was enough though, when is it not? Rahane led the team with confidence, courage and crispness. He lacked the charisma of Kohli but made up for it with his calm disposition. He did not have style, but a refreshing amount of substance.
Rahane made inspired decisions on the field and led India to their fourth consecutive series victory. Bowling seam bowlers from both ends while Warner and Smith looked dangerous in the third innings proved to be a masterstroke from the stand-in captain.
The season undoubtedly belonged to Kohli. But maybe, just maybe, India needed Rahane’s languid thought flow in that test.Published 02 Apr 2017, 17:17 IST