The Adelaide Test match was all about grit and patience – qualities that, given the glut of ODIs, T20 matches and leagues, seem so alien to so many cricketers now. A defensive shot is the last thing on their minds. A six, a four, a three, a two, a single and finally, a defensive shot. Always in that order, always on the lookout for runs.
And that is another reason why the first Test was such a big challenge to so many – they had to rein in their instincts; instincts that have been honed by playing match-after-match in the shorter formats and adapt to a very different style of play.
Now, that isn’t as easy as Virat Kohli makes it look.
In the the first innings, India’s batsmen were dismissed playing loose shots. It wasn’t so much the quality of the deliveries that got them, rather it was their impatience. Which is why Cheteshwar Pujara – the only proper batsman without an IPL contract in the side – had to be their guiding light.
Pujara has had time to prepare... unlike many others in his team. He played county cricket last summer – not with great success but gave himself the opportunity to fail and perhaps more importantly, learn. They used to say this about Sunil Gavaskar’s net sessions as well.
The former India opener would get bowled a lot in his sessions. Not because he was in bad form but simply because he wanted to be sure about where his off-stump was before the match began. He had his own method. So, he would keep leaving the ball until he had it right in his head. Pujara, too, has his method.
“Playing here before has helped me a lot,” Pujara said after a batting performance for the ages. “The most important thing for me was the preparation, when I was back home. I knew what to expect from Australian pitches and playing some of their bowlers in the past has also helped me.”
Mentally, he made the adjustment quicker than the others. It helped that his natural game is also more attuned to a gentler pace. All of that led to Kohli referring to Pujara’s value to the team as ‘priceless.’
“We were down and out at lunch on day one. His (Pujara’s) belief, grit and determination kept us in the game, he brought us back beautifully,” Kohli said after the match. “The game was poised equally on day two. We knew runs on the board, their position playing at home, they’ll obviously be a bit tentative and we cashed in on that. Any lead would have been gold and we built on that (with) a couple of partnerships in the second innings, particularly Pujara and Rahane. When they bat together like that they are our most solid pair. They gave us that safety for the bowlers to go out and get ten wickets. It took grit and determination from both of them to put us past Australia where it was hard for them to chase that total down.”
But it wasn’t just Pujara who came to the party for India. Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandra, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and for a short while in the second innings, even Murali Vijay – everyone contributed and they are all India’s Test specialists.
How India’s Test specialists performed
- Vijay 11, Pujara 123, Rahane 13, Ashwin 25, Ishant 4, Shami 6
India’s total: 250. Test specialists contribution: 182
- Ishant 2-47, Shami 2-58, Ashwin 3-57
- Vijay 18, Pujara 71, Rahane 70, Ashwin 5
India’s total: 307. Test specialists contribution: 164
- Ishant 1-48, Ashwin 3-92, Shami 3-65
This is just one Test and perhaps one shouldn’t read too much into it. But being able to prepare well for a tour is important and given India’s packed schedule do the all-format cricketers have enough time to do that?
As Pujara showed, making the mental adjustment is important. Ashwin’s skills as a bowler were very important as was the ability to bowl long spells. His persistence will the ball played as important a role in India’s win. He managed to tie up one end for long periods – giving up few runs and taking wickets. It allowed Kohli to rotate the pacemen from the other end and keep them fresh. The experience of two previous Australia tours stood the off-spinner in good stead. He was prepared for the slow grind.
The same can also be said for Ishant Sharma. In the last one year, his bowling average has been 22.03 for his 33 wickets. Over the last two years, he has taken 50 wickets at 26.28. These are great numbers especially when you compare it to the Ishant before that – from 2007 (when he made his debut) to December 2016, he had an average of 36.71 (209 wickets) but they also coincide with him playing just 6 IPL matches in 2017 and not being picked at all in 2018. The result is that he concentrates on one format and puts his all into it. Is that helping?
It has been argued that India should play fewer international games, focus on certain tours, play enough tour games leading into a Test series but that won’t always be possible. So is specialisation really that bad an idea?
In their own way, the Test specialists are making a case for preparation – not just playing tour games but finding a way to be permanently attuned to one. ODIs and T20s are one thing but Tests are proving to be a completely different kettle of fish for many modern cricketers.
It’s food for thought at the moment but it’ll be interesting to keep track of as the series goes on. The tougher the series, the greater the value of the specialists.