Ind vs Eng: Young India shines with the old in rousing team effort

Jaiswal, Ashwin finish with best individual honours as visitors implode again at Dharamsala

Indian team celebrates after wrapping up the series
Indian team celebrates after wrapping up the series

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It’s quite tempting to draw parallels between India’s emphatic 4-1 Test series win against England’s Bazballers and them rallying to tame Australia in their backyard in the 2020-21 series. Both saw an under-strength Indian squad rising to the occasion against quality opposition, though getting the better of the Aussies at Melbourne and breaching the fortress at Gabba after that 36 all out was like scaling a different peak altogether.

The similarity, if any, lay in discovering the core of a young India which can serve Test cricket for years to come. If there were unlikely heroes Down Under in a Rishabh Pant, Shubman Gill or Mohammed Siraj, it’s been more conspicuous this time with 22-year-old Yashasvi Jaiswal taking his consistency to a different plane to emerge as the top scorer (712 runs) while debutants like Sarfaraz Khan, Dhruv Jurel, Devdutt Padikkal or seam bowler Akash Deep vindicated the faith shown by the team management.

Four debutants in one Test series is as rare as they come in Indian cricket, with compelling circumstances like the unavailability of Virat Kohli or Jasprit Bumrah or injury to K.L. Rahul often throwing up these opportunities.

However, the difference between most of India’s series wins at home and this one was the way each team member put up his hand to win the critical sessions — be it Bumrah’s six-wicket haul on a flat track in the second Test in Vizag, the twin centuries of captain Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja in the face of an early crisis in Rajkot, or the priceless 90 from Jurel and his match-saving partnership with Kuldeep Yadav in Ranchi.

A full scale five-Test series meant there were more match situations which tested the characters of the players, and this is where Rohit’s men came out with flying colours. In what was a level playing field albeit in sub-continent conditions, Ben Stokes’ men simply flattered to deceive — so much so that vice-captain Ollie Pope’s epic 196 or Tom Hartley’s seven-wicket haul in the first Test in Hyderabad seem like a distant memory now.

It was finally left to Joe Root to take the approach he knows best and has yielded him more than 11,000 Test runs, while the rest were either cavalier or found wanting in the art of tackling spin.

The visitors’ performance in the last Test under conducive conditions for them was all the more listless, as they lost the game on day one itself, folding up for 218 in good batting conditions after opting to bat. A final scoreline of 3-2 could have helped them salvage their reputation somewhat, but they were never really up to the challenge — the team’s only high point being when Jimmy Anderson kept his date with his 700th wicket at the beginning of the third and final day.

Back in the 2021 series when Root’s team went down 3-1, there were some valid complaints about the hosts preparing dust bowls for the trio of Ashwin-Jadeja-Axar Patel to wreak havoc. The voices of dissent (read: former England captains) were much more muted this time, with wickets from the second Test onward offered batting-friendly conditions, barring the odd occasions in a venue like Ranchi where there was some variable bounce and the ball kept low.

If the 37-year-old Ashwin (who played his 100th Test at Dharamsala) was at his best to finish as the highest wicket taker in the series with 26 scalps, young Hartley proved a quick learner as he came in second on the list with 22 victims. Bumrah is third with 19 along with Kuldeep, while Jadeja is next with 18. Young Shoaib Bashir, of course, looked the most impressive of England’s slow bowlers as he asked frequent questions of the Indian batters with his loop and turn.

The 4-1 margin has helped India salvage its position at the top of the heap in the World Test Championship, and more importantly, the series has thrown up more interesting options for the future.

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