India in England 2018

The rot in India’s batting line-up overseas starts at the top

The lack of stability at the top of the order has exposed the rest of the batsmen to the tricky initial conditions found commonly on overseas tours.

Indian batsmen fell like nine pins at Lord’s on Friday, but it was even worse for there were ten. A pitch full of demons, backed by overcast conditions and a keen English pace attack, meant that the visitors had to endure a sobering outing on the second day of the Lord’s Test.

India were bowled out for just 107 as James Anderson triggered the collapse with a five-wicket haul. A lack of technical prowess to tackle the obtuse conditions was clear. From the openers downward, no one could really pose any form of resistance.

As the Test progresses, this batting line-up will once again come under the scanner. The vulnerability is clear: beyond the technical shortcomings there seems to be a lack of confidence among most batsmen other than skipper Virat Kohli.

Fear of axe

From the sidelines, it appears most Indian batsmen are overwhelmed by the constant fear of getting the chop. The rot starts from the top, where the openers have been become party of a game of musical chairs, which has robbed all involved a chance to settle into their roles. Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul have exchanged places on several occasions in the past year. The lack of clarity reached its peak at the toss as Dhawan was dropped after one match.

Vijay was bowled by Anderson in the first over; Rahul fell soon after pouring cold water on the latest experiment. While the entire batting-order failed, the openers do hold more responsibility in situations where seeing off the new ball is imperative to getting the right result.

In the lead-up to the high-profile series, coach Ravi Shastri had said that the important aspect for him was to ensure the top order sees off the initial tricky conditions, and provide a platform for the middle order to pile on the runs.

The concept has fallen flat so far with the openers coming up short. Far from seeing off the initial tricky conditions, they are the ones who seem most vulnerable.

The lack of stability at the top has naturally seeped down. Pujara, who comes next, has been patchy. The pressure to perform between the misfiring openers and a mercurial Kohli at No 4 has proved a little overwhelming at times for Pujara. He was run-out trying to pinch a single on Friday.

India's Test opening partnership in last 5 yrs

Host country Innings Runs Highest partnership
Australia 8 248 56
England 13 288 50
South Africa 10 198 41
New Zealand 4 49 36

The problem on these tours has been the lack of support from the openers for the rest of the team. For most sides their openers are the ones most adept at combating extreme conditions that assist swing and seam movement. Sadly for India, that has hardly been true in the last couple of years. Dhawan, Rahul aren’t exactly known for the dead bats and have fashioned a more aggressive style. Vijay, who was being seen as the one to fill this void, hasn’t been at his best in recent months. The fact was most evident on Friday.

In the very first over, Vijay looked to work a ripper of a delivery pitched full by Anderson towards the leg side instead of just playing forward. The ball moved away after pitching, going past the edge and onto the stumps. Rahul followed soon after: he lunged forward to reach for a gnawing line and length perfected by Anderson. All he got was a healthy edge that was pocketed in the slips.

Running out of options

In the recent past, India’s openers have made a habit of faltering on overseas tours. The lack of consistency has meant a periodic change in personnel who have also failed to cement their spot.

Kohli has been making the bulk of the runs in the middle-order on these tours abroad. However, to expect him to fire every time is foolhardy. He played his part in the first Test but could not keep up with the resistance at Lord’s in the first innings.

The chopping and changing so far has only muddled the opening conundrum. Dhawan was dropped for Rahul and now the latter has also failed. There can only be so many options for two slots. The meritocracy can work only when there are others waiting to come in and seamlessly take over.

The likes of Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw are waiting in the wings with impressive showing on the India ‘A’ tours. The former is an experienced pro on the domestic circuit and has hardly played at the highest level. His ability to combat the swing in England is doubtful. The latter is young and untested. To throw him into the deep end at such a young age will be a tough proposition for the selectors to make.

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