The India Australia series provided a bowling-led blueprint for greater challenges abroad

Indian batsman K L Rahul drew the curtains to a closely contested series between India and Australia in the Border-Gavaskar trophy 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 4 hundreds and 7 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 Hazare to Gavaskar to Tendulkar to Dravid to Laxman to 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 3 formats—Virat Kohli himself. India’s next batting champion was duly anointed at the end of the India-England series after Virat Kohli scored 655 runs over 8 innings. Another double hundred in the Bangladesh test, and he had outscored Bradman and Rahul Dravid with 4 double hundreds in 4 successive series. Normal service had indeed resumed.

Somehow, this series didn’t go according to plan in terms of the batsmen. Virat 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 Pujara and Rahul can be counted as batsmen who had a good run, each scoring over 390 runs in their 7 innings. Sure, Jadeja, Saha, and Rahane did make key contributions, but only the aforementioned two batsmen did well consistently throughout the 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 Dharamshala test, Australia were comfortable at 144/1 on the first afternoon before a Kuldeep Yadav inspired bowling attack bundled the Aussies for 300—what would be later on termed as a below-par effort for the surface. In the second innings too, taking out 3 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 at 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 which 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 first 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.

Result Batting average Bowling average
Win 41.48 23.72
Loss 22.69 43.49
Draw 42.11 44.14

 

Over the last ten years, batsmen and bowlers have averaged ~33 and ~34 runs/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 6 captains among the top 25 had a bowling unit that averaged more than 30 runs/dismissal. Simply put, India needs to assemble a similarly effective bowling unit if it has to be successful in unfriendly overseas conditions as well.

 

 

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