Almost as soon as the first Test at Wellington ended, the conversation shifted to what India could do differently in the second Test at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch.
Skipper Virat Kohli spoke about how India needed to avoid the cautious approach with the bat.
“If you are waiting for the good ball to dismiss you, you accept that it’s okay to get out to a good ball,” said Kohli. “A cautious approach never pays off, especially away from home.”
Kohli’s comments put the focus on Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari and Ajinkya Rahane – who were all perhaps guilty of being too passive while batting. They got stuck and with them, so did India.
But batting worries aside, the real turning point of the first Test was the runs put on by New Zealand’s lower order. From 207/5 in the first innings, the hosts made their way to 348. The overall lead put too much pressure on India in the second innings.
NZ’s lower order show had many wondering whether Ravindra Jadeja might be a better fit in the playing XI than Ravichandran Ashwin given the batting frailty and the latter’s poor batting form over the last two years (he averages just 16.26 in this period).
Ashwin did a decent holding role with the ball in the first innings as his figures of 29-1-99-3 show, but his poor batting form means that India have an even longer tail than usual. Given that India’s problems in overseas Tests have stemmed more from batting than bowling, Jadeja might be capable of doing the same role with the ball and providing some runs down the order too.
But at the same time, Kohli might wonder whether India will need a spinner at the Hagley Oval at all.
At the Hagley Oval
Spinners: 19 wickets, avg of 59.78, economy rate of 3.42
Pace: 176 wickets, avg of 28.46, economy rate of 3.11
As the numbers indicate, the Hagley Oval has clearly not been kind to spinners. They can hang in there and do the job. Given the quality of Ashwin and Jadeja, they should manage that easily. But fast bowlers are more likely to have an impact.
If one further breaks down the numbers and looks at just how New Zealand pacers have done at the Hagley Oval, the decision should become even more obvious. In the six matches played at the ground, NZ’s pace bowlers have taken 109 wickets at an average of 24.46 and an economy rate of 2.83.
The host team’s spinners, on the other hand, have taken just two wickets at an average of 108.00. Their economy rate of 2.70 is pretty decent but the fast bowlers create more chances and take more wickets.
So is it time for Kohli to test his ‘horses for courses’ policy yet again? The numbers clearly show that pacer Umesh Yadav will be a better fit and this will be an ideal ground to go in with an all-pace attack.
It will make the batting a little weaker but the onus to bat should be on the batsmen and not the lower order. Yadav will also add the element of a proper swing bowler to the lineup. Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma are ‘hit the deck’ kind of bowlers who rely more on seam than conventional swing, but a proper swing bowler might present a different challenge to the Kiwi batsmen.
Umesh is also good against the tail and his pace can put a different kind of pressure on the lower order. His overseas record hasn’t been great but he has continued to improve and has much greater control than he used to in the past.
There were times in the past when Kohli might have changed the playing XI without any clear or obvious reason but this change might be the way forward for India. The Indian skipper tends to go with his gut instinct and it will be interesting to see what he eventually decides to do.
Under Kohli, India have always looked to win, and not draw, Tests and playing Umesh ahead of Ashwin or Jadeja might take them closer to their goal. As he said after the first Test, “a cautious approach never pays off.”
Matches at the Hagley Oval
|Matches won batting first||2|
|Matches won bowling first||3|
|Average 1st Inns scores||286|
|Average 2nd Inns scores||263|
|Average 3rd Inns scores||337|
|Average 4th Inns scores||169|
|Highest total recorded||585/4 (153 Ov) by NZ vs SL|
|Lowest total recorded||104/10 (41 Ov) by SL vs NZ|