For the third consecutive Test match at home, India recorded a thumping win. They beat Sri Lanka in Nagpur, Afghanistan in Bengaluru and, on Saturday, West Indies in Rajkot — all three victories by a margin of an innings and 200-plus runs and, at the time of each result, India’s biggest win in Tests.
The result itself should hardly be a surprise. There are no certainties in sport, but not even the most optimistic West Indies follower would have expected a win. What they would have expected was a fight from the young, inexperienced team. Captain Jason Holder had promised as much in the pre-series press conference. He spoke of a side that is learning the trade and eager to play the longest format for the love of it. It, however, failed to be a rallying call.
Three days. That’s all it took for Virat Kohli and Co to dismantle the visitors, with a performance that served as a reminder of how ruthless India have been at home in Tests.
Kuldeep bounces back
“Looking ahead, the Windies should show more character,” said Darren Ganga and before he finished the sentence, Shannon Gabriel had played a mindless hoick when there was a fielder waiting at long on to bring an end to the first Test match. It was a fitting finish, one that summed up West Indies’ bizarre approach on day three.
Saturday did not start all that badly, though. With six wickets already lost in the first innings before reaching 100, Roston Chase showed a good mix of aggression and defensive technique to take on Kuldeep Yadav, in the company of Keemo Paul. While the latter was not mindful in his aggression, he managed to connect a few more shots than the rest of his teammates whereas Chase showed restraint when had to, only driving when the ball was full enough.
It was also interesting that Kohli went for Kuldeep straight up on day three, instead of R Ashwin. The Indian captain was throwing down a gauntlet to the young spinner. Here was his chance to have a crack at taking the last four wickets. It wasn’t happening, though. Kuldeep repeatedly struggled to get his length right, bowling far too full for the ball to turn and cause confusion in the minds of Paul and Chase. And when he wasn’t flighting it too full, he strayed on the pads that made sweeping an effective option.
If this was an audition for Kuldeep to show his captain what he’s capable of with the red ball it wasn’t going well. And soon enough, Ashwin came on and cleaned up the tail with minimum fuss.
However, much like the ODI against Australia where Kuldeep picked up a hat-trick in his second spell after being taken for plenty in the first, he bounced back. In the second innings, his lengths became shorter and he wasn’t looping the ball just for the sake of giving it flight. He was getting the ball to land at the right areas and give it enough time to turn either way — and that’s when he is at his most lethal. He also tried to change the angle to round the wicket on occasion, to bring in the variation and was rewarded with the wicket of Chase.
Speaking after the match, Kuldeep admitted he wasn’t at his best in the first innings as he was having trouble getting used to the red ball. With Ashwin elaborating on how the seams and grips are different in different balls used across formats, Kuldeep said it proved to be a challenge getting his lengths right. But with his first ever five-wicket haul in whites, Kuldeep showed once again that he is a quick learner.
And learning from mistakes is what Windies failed to do in this game.
Lack of fight
The West Indies first innings on day two felt like an audition for the IPL. Batsmen were going for big shots on the third or fourth balls they were facing after walking in to bat — Sunil Ambris, for instance, went for a hoick over long on, the very first ball he faced from Ravindra Jadeja and got caught at first slip. There was no intention of playing the situation, playing the field. The strategy might have been to unsettle the Indian spinners, but as Ashwin cheekily pointed out after the match, it was a strategy that failed. And spectacularly so.
So, when Kohli enforced the follow on, the expectations were already at a bare minimum because the bar was set low in the first innings. If you were hoping they’d at least avoid the same mistakes in the second innings, majority of the Windies batsmen left you utterly disappointed.
Kieran Powell was the only one who showed application. The first over he faced from Ashwin, he played two attacking shots and four defensive. And both those attacking shots were calculated risks, coming down the track and lofting it over the fielders. He continued to do that for the rest of the innings, on his way to an impressive 83.
But his teammates repeatedly let him down from the other end. Ambris, yet again, played a shot a middle order batsman has no business playing in a tough situation — coming down the track off the third ball he faced, with no clue about how it was going to turn. Chase, too, perished playing an uppish cover drive a few deliveries after a similar shot had just managed to clear the fielder.
“Going forward what we need to do is along with the attacking shots, trust in defence. I think that’s the key,” said stand-in captain Craig Brathwaite after the match. “Obviously when the field goes back, it’s a matter of still staying positive in defence also and putting away the bad balls, stroking the ball along the ground for singles. I just don’t think we didn’t trust our defence as much as we should have.”
He couldn’t have summed it up any better.
If the second Test is going to be anything but an one-sided affair, this West Indies batting lineup has a mountain to climb, on the evidence of what we saw in Rajkot.