India vs England: Bumrah, not Kohli, can be the missing X factor for hosts

After a level playing field in last two Tests, pitch holds intrigue in M.S. Dhoni’s city

(From left) Mukesh Kumar, Mohammed Siraj and Akashdeep during a practice session in Ranchi (photo: BCCI/X)
(From left) Mukesh Kumar, Mohammed Siraj and Akashdeep during a practice session in Ranchi (photo: BCCI/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Even in his absence from the crucial fourth Test in Ranchi from Friday, 22 February, India’s pace ace Jasprit Bumrah loomed large. While the England camp, who have been putting up a brave face after a 434-run mauling in Rajkot will heave a huge sigh of relief, India’s batting coach Vikram Rathour admitted it was purely a workload issue which made them give Bumrah downtime from the upcoming contest.

While it’s still early to surmise, the buzz is that in case India manage to wrap up the series in M.S. Dhoni’s hometown, Bumrah may stay out for the final Test as well – what with the rigours of IPL and the T20 World Cup following in close succession. The news of Mohammed Shami likely to undergo ankle surgery in the UK and therefore miss the IPL means the team management will be doubly careful in handling this extraordinary fast bowler.

“We'd love to see Bumrah play every match but it is not advisable. With the kind of workload and schedule we have, everybody felt it's better to give him a break. He was absolutely fine but we also have to keep in mind the workload ahead,” said Rathour, underlining his importance in the side.

While the hosts have done remarkably well to bounce back with a below-par side in the series, it will be a fair assessment today that Bumrah will be missed more than Virat Kohli at home – the latter having ruled himself out of the entire series due to family commitments.

A reflection on Bumrah’s performance will illustrate how well he had shouldered the burden of being the team’s stock bowler yet wicket-taking option – harking one back to the Kapil Dev era. In a series billed as a contest between England’s Bazball men and Ravi Ashwin & Co, Bumrah had delivered 80.5 overs for his 17 wickets (the highest wicket-taker for India so far at 13.41), while his haul of six for 45 in the first innings at Vizag on a flat track was a gamechanger of sorts.

While the Indian batters were panned for not gritting their teeth enough in the first Test (Yashasvi Jaiswal, K.L. Rahul and Ravindra Jadeja fell in the 80s), they were chastened in a team talk and the results showed in the last two Tests.

While young Yashasvi showed enormous hunger with back-to-back double centuries, Rohit Sharma, Jadeja and Shubman Gill helped themselves to three-figure knocks. Sarfaraz Khan, the effervescent debutant, got back-to-back fifties while the only batter looking out of sorts in the top order was Rajat Patidar.

If this means enough people had put their hands up in the absence of Kohli, the unavailability of Bumrah on the other hand means seniormost seamer Mohammed Siraz cannot afford to be profligate with the new ball against Ben Duckett & Zak Crawley in particular. It seems that Akashdeep, the fellow paceman of Mukesh Kumar in the Bengal squad, may make his Test bow on Friday as the later had a quiet second Test at Vizag.

Akashdeep, who was earlier a part of India’s Asian Games squad and the ODI series in South Africa, stood out for India A in their series against England Lions when he picked 11 wickets in two matches with two four-wicket hauls. The Test call-up for Akashdeep from the fringes means the selectors can’t bank on Prasiddh Krishna enough after his unimpressive show in South Africa.

Meanwhile, it seems that after playing on true surfaces in both Vizag and Rajkot, the normally slow and low Ranchi wicket may offer some intrigue. England captain Ben Stokes, who in all probability will resume his allrounder’s role, admitted to being confused by the nature of the wicket.

‘’If you looked down one side of the opposite ends it just looked different to what I am used to seeing, especially out in India. It looked green and grassy up in the changing rooms, but when you go out there, it looked different. Very dark and crumbly and with a few cracks on it,’’ Stokes said.

Is he, then, keeping himself ready to be the second-pace option along with Ollie Robinson (set to replace Mark Wood) and throw the kitchen sink at India by deploying a four-pronged spin attack? We will know soon.

Catch the match

India vs England

Fourth Test, Ranchi

Match starts at 9.30 am IST

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