Batting concerns for India

Batting concerns for India

With a lot of fresh talent emerging in the country, it was clear before the series started that Pujara and Rahane were skating on thin ice

The Indians may be feeling hard done by the rain on the final day of the opening Test in Nottingham that may have robbed them of a potential win but they have some serious batting issues to address when the second game against England kicks off at Lord’s on Thursday.

One doesn’t know if the Indians would have chased down 209 after taking stumps on the fourth day at 52/1 in Trent Bridge last week but what everyone is aware of — and the statistics are there as an affirmation — is that the starry Indian batting line-up has come a cropper repeatedly in England.

Barring skipper Virat Kohli (784 runs, 34.08 average) and KL Rahul (409, 34.08) none of the other batsmen average above 30. Rohit Sharma (146, 29.20) can be excused because he has played just three Tests in the Old Blighty but Cheteshwar Pujara (539, 26.95) and Ajinkya Rahane (625, 28.40) have just been ordinary. Both Rahane, the vice-captain of the team, and Pujara, considered the rock of this batting line-up, are on their third trip to England but they seem to have not learnt any lessons and keep committing the same mistakes that has cost the Indian team dearly.

Since that sparkling century at Lord’s in 2014, Rahane has rarely looked the same in the swinging conditions where batting can be hard when one walks into the crease. The Mumbaikar, in his 23 innings in England, has been out for single digit scores seven times and has scored below 20 another five times. Apart from the ton in his first trip here, he has just managed four half-centuries.

The readings for Pujara, who was one of the main architects of India’s two back to back series wins in Australia, is worse. In 22 innings, he’s been out for single digit scores on 8 occasions, scored below 20 five times (not including the unbeaten 12 in the Nottingham opening Test) and has just one century and two half-centuries.

It clearly indicates that Pujara and Rahane have barely managed to make a start for a vast majority of their respective innings. Both are uncertain of their feet movement, unsure which way the ball will swing and the indecision has forced them into repeating the same mistakes. Inputs by new batting coach Vikram Rathor and head coach Ravi Shastri have failed to find a cure. They simply look like walking wickets against James Anderson and Co.

With a lot of fresh talent emerging in the country, it was clear before the series started that Pujara and Rahane were skating on thin ice. The Indian team management has often talked about Pujara’s poor strike rate and the pressure on him and Rahane to get firing has just grown enormous. Suryakumar Yadav, in red hot form since making his India debut this year, and a fit-again Mayank Agarwal are waiting in the wings. So does Hanuma Vihari, who can even bowl decent off-spin.

Kohli sprang a surprise when he dropped seasoned off-spinner R Ashwin for seaming all-rounder Shardul Thakur. With Thakur nursing a hamstring injury and rendered hors de combat for this Test, it remains to be seen whether Kohli swaps Thakur for Ashwin or brings back seasoned pacer Ishant Sharma. Or would he bolster the battling line-up by playing either Agarwal or Vihari? 

England, who are missing star all-rounder Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes, have similar batting worries as India with only skipper Joe Root looking assured. Adding to their woes, senior pacer Stuart Broad has been ruled out for the second Test while James Anderson remains a doubtful starter.  

Unlike Nottingham, no rain has been predicted for the Lord’s Test but the weather forecast in UK as good as an Indian roadside astrologer’s proclaims -- anything can happen. If the weather holds good it could be another good clash between the two sides with serious batting woes but top-class pacers who can make the ball talk big.