Seaming troubles for Indians

Seaming troubles for Indians

Upon postmortem of India’s eight-wicket humbling at the hands of New Zealand in the final of the World Test Championship, it’s not hard to find out what caused their demise. Scores of 217 and 170 are just not good enough in any Test, let alone in a showpiece clash against the No. 1-ranked side in the world.

While Indians admittedly got the worst of conditions to bat first where even the best of batsmen could struggle against a high-quality pace attack like New Zealand who thrive on overcast and chilly weather, the situation was much better in the second innings with the sun out in full glory in Southampton. All they needed to do was bat with proper application for at least a session and then, with wickets in hand, they could have decided to either play safe for a draw or go for the jugular. A draw would have been enough for India to share the spoils with New Zealand.

However, moment Kyle Jamieson dismissed the overnight pair of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara in the sixth and eighth overs of the reserve day, the writing was on the wall for the Indians. In fact, this was not the first batting implosion the Indians have suffered in overseas Tests. While they were the talk of the cricketing world after bouncing back from the Adelaide debacle to stun the Australians 2-1 to win the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, their overall batting in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) nations is mediocre at best (see table).

In seaming conditions of England and New Zealand where the pace bowlers consistently keep hitting the probing lines and lengths, their batting has often fallen apart. Picture this, during the trip to New Zealand in 2020, only once did the Indians cross 200 in two Test matches. The other three scores were abject: 165, 191 and 124. For a batting line-up consisting seasoned performers like Kohli, Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane — Rohit Sharma didn’t play the New Zealand series — such returns are abysmal.

The script was similar during the five-Test tour of England in 2018 where they lost 1-4. Only thrice did they surpass 300 — considered a competitive score — and were shot out below 200 on four occasions. Barring Kohli who scored 593 runs, none of the other batsman portrayed any consistency. Their technique against the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad was found wanting and barely did any batsman look authoritative enough as Kohli.

The problem with a majority of the Indian batsmen in the current lot when the ball is seaming around is their inability to counter it. They switch to defence to completely, tie themselves into a knot and as the pressure mounts with relentless attacks, they lose their wicket in an attempt to break free, often playing a loose shot. Yes, even Kohli gets into a defensive mould when the bowling is top notch but when it’s time to step on the pedal, he does it effortlessly. Also, even during his defensive phase, he picks the quick singles and twos to keep motoring along unlike others who simply stagnate.

Kohli acknowledged the inability of his batsmen to counter seam bowling as a concern. “We definitely need to work out better plans on understanding how to score runs. We have to stay in sync with the momentum of the game and not let the game drift away too much. I don't think there are any technical difficulties as such. It’s more down to game awareness and being more brave in putting bowlers under pressure and not allowing them to bowl in similar areas for longer periods of time unless it is absolutely overcast and ball swinging all over the place like it happened on day 1 (day 2 of WTC final). 

“You can't be too worried about getting out as you’re bringing the bowler into the game completely. The endeavour would be to try and score runs and not worry about getting out in testing conditions. That's the way you can put opposition under pressure otherwise you are standing there and hoping that you don’t get out, which you eventually will be because you are not being optimistic enough.”

India have more than a month’s time before the daunting England tour kicks off on August 4. England, despite their rotation policy, have a wonderful pace attack. If the Indians don’t find solutions to their seaming troubles soon, it could be a very long summer for them.

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