Both England and India played at the pace of TV Umpire C Shamshuddin on Day 2 as remarkably, thanks to a ludicrous 17 wickets falling, the two sides ensured that they got three extra days off. It was death-by-Axar for England, who yet again succumbed to (lack of) spin to hand the hosts victory.
Soooooo… the Indian batsmen are after all not as good as they think they are
There were so many layers to India’s demolition of England in the second Test in Chennai, on a rank turner, one of which was their batting prowess versus spin. On a wicket where explosions occurred from the very first over of the game, the Indian batsmen outscored their English counterparts by a mammoth 317 runs. Naturally, the performance justified the overarching global view that the Indian batsmen are pretty good players of spin and, as a result of the same, another rank turner was dished out for the third Test. As we learnt today, though, India are definitely not as good versus spin as they think they are.
To an extent, after experts and journalists across the globe spent one full week, and the entirety of yesterday, rambling about how England are inept versus spin, it was comical to see India fold the same way. Like England, they were deceived by the lack of turn and ended up losing their last 7 wickets in the first innings for just 31. Worse, they folded to the part-time off-spin of Joe Root.
Yes, the pitch was not ideal, and yes, India eventually registered a convincing victory. But what we learnt is that, regardless of how much they pretend it's not, playing on rank turners will always be a lottery for the Indian batsmen, for the simple fact that their batters have not mastered the art of playing on minefields. As a matter of fact, no team has and no team can and will.
Indeed, India out-batted England in the second Test, and by some distance, but that largely stemmed from the fact that Rohit Sharma played a freak knock; the other batsmen merely piggybacked off that knockout punch. That almost all of India’s defeats or close shaves at home in the past decade have come on rank turners also suggests that, apart from rank turners rendering them vulnerable to defeats, their batsmen can’t be banked on to provide assurance on spinning tracks.
The failed Jonny Bairstow gamble
It was perhaps fitting that, after travelling close to 4,200 miles to partake in the third Test, Jonny Bairstow lasted all of 11 balls in the entire game and failed to trouble the scorers. Fitting because it was, in many ways, his Test career post-2016 in a nutshell.
Even prior to the commencement of the series, Bairstow hogged the limelight. Not really because he was breaking the door down, but because he’d been ‘rested’. Known to be one of England’s best players of spin, the consensus in the English media - including all ex-cricketers - was that England were shooting themselves in the foot by leaving Bairstow out. His omission was seen as ‘disrespectful’ and almost everyone, including Indian fans, were in agreement that England without Bairstow were a weakened side.
After his showing in this Test, though, it is hard to not feel that the Yorkshireman was unreasonably overhyped. Among all English batsmen, his two dismissals were the softest - on both occasions he missed an innocuous straight delivery from Axar - and the paucity of guile and confidence in his batting made the whole hype surrounding his entry a rather unfortunate joke.
Questioning Bairstow’s credentials based on two knocks on a minefield would undoubtedly be harsh, but perhaps these two knocks will serve as an eye-opener for the management - at the end of the day, Jonathan Marc Bairstow the Test cricketer is a batsman with a low ceiling.
There are two ways to evaluate a good wicket-keeping performance: the first is to look at if the keeper stole the show. You see if he created something out of nothing and made the art of glovework look ridiculously easy. Ben Foakes did this in the second Test in Chennai. In these cases, you know that the keeper simply put up a world-class performance. The second is to try and remember if the keeper, at any point in the game, consciously reminded you that he existed. If he didn’t, and the action just flowed, then you have your answer: the keeper did have a pretty good game. Rishabh Pant’s performance in the third Test was of the second kind.
For the second Test running, Pant put up an outstanding showing against the turning ball. On a pitch that not just turned square but also provided extravagant movement for the pacers early on, Pant was next to flawless, remarkably conceding just 1 extra in the entire game. He read the turn, bounce and drift generated by both Ashwin and Axar to perfection and clung on to everything that came his way. He did not have too much to do in the first innings, but on Day 2 in the second innings, however, he gobbled up both the chances that came his way: first, an outside edge of Sibley, and then, towards the end, a sharp chance provided to him by Anderson, who miscued a reverse-sweep.
That, in Chennai, Pant’s exceptional keeping was propelled by the confidence he garnered by scoring runs was a pretty unanimous view, but to back-up one outstanding performance with another, that too in a day/night Test on a rank turner, just shows how the youngster’s keeping is growing from strength to strength. He is no longer a liability behind the wickets - considering the energy his chatter brings to the side, Rishabh Pant the wicket-keeper is transforming into a genuine force to be reckoned with.