India’s comprehensive victory margin in the third Test against the West Indies firmly indicated that the gulf between the two sides is still very much existent, despite the hosts’ valiant fight back in Jamaica.
There were obvious differences in the course of day five of these two respective Tests. Rain on day four at Sabina Park had made the pitch easier to bat on, so much so that it had gone to sleep.
Here, in St Lucia, rain washed out day three and play on day four meant that the pitch was scuffed up just enough. More importantly though, the liveliest pitch in the Caribbean lived up to its reputation where it provided the bowlers that little help throughout the match.
At one point in the match, India were struggling though, and at 130/5, the hosts were very much in it. Ravichandran Ashwin then came up with another superlative hundred, and allowed the visitors to breathe again.
His move to No 6 has brought rich dividends for the team, and the amount of responsibility he has shouldered means that playing five bowlers is easy for Virat Kohli. While he ponders over the top-order combination, the middle order feels safe and India’s batting depth hasn’t been harmed.
Thereafter, of course, there is Ashwin’s spin for the opposition to contend with as well.
“He is obviously a quality bowler and the beauty is that he makes you play a lot of deliveries. There are not many deliveries that you don’t have to play and he has good variations as well. He is a clever bowler and he knows what he is about and he knows what he sets up to do.
“He can set fields and bowl to them. Ideally this is what test cricket is about,” said Jason Holder, about the man who has single-handedly pushed his team back in this series.
With Ashwin giving solidity at no.6, and Wriddhiman Saha given the freedom to express his batting abilities at no.7, Kohli is able to round up his bowling attack as per the conditions available to him. It is an obvious pointer of Indian cricket that they usually do go in with two pacers and spinners each. Overseas, the fifth bowler is a pacer and in the sub-continent an extra spinner takes up that role.
Depending on the conditions then, it is the captain’s prerogative to pick his fifth bowler. In the first two Tests, on flatter tracks, Umesh Yadav was assigned that role. He was asked to use reverse swing and the short-ball tactic, but it didn’t work in Jamaica as the ball went soft.
“He gives you a lot of control and he creates pressure for the other bowler. You might not see 4-5 wickets in front of his name, but the kind of pressure he creates for others is priceless. That’s bowling in partnerships. He does that job beautifully for the other bowlers,” said the skipper about the left-arm spinner.
Bringing Jadeja in was the crucial change-around from Jamaica. As good and experienced as Amit Mishra is the leg-spinner always has a tendency to be taken for runs.
On day five in Kingston, when the ball went soft and Kohli had no option but to deploy his spinners in tandem, Mishra leaked runs.
In contrast, on day four, just before lunch, again with the old ball Kohli deployed his two spinners. They didn’t let Marlon Samuels and Jermaine Blackwood get away, despite spending nearly half a session at the crease.
Post-lunch, Kumar wrecked their innings with the second new ball, and India were able to gain a lead with which they could push for victory.
“It helps massively when you know that the bowlers are bowling to a plan. That is one area where we all know that we needed improvement in the last couple of years. Apart from that one session in Jamaica and one in Galle, I think we’ve been able to control the scoring really nicely. Not just at home, but away from home as well. That’s one good thing about this team,” said the skipper.
“Ashwin is obviously very consistent, he’s a world class spinner. Bhuvi again is very consistent. Even Shami is very consistent. His line and lengths are very attacking and consistent at the same time.
“Ishant is a banker. He comes in and bowls at those pressure areas. We have a good bowling unit going on, and if you are that much control in the middle then the economy doesn’t go over two. That’s exactly what happened in the first innings, even though they were 180/1, we had bowled eighty overs,” he added.
It reflects on how the roles change for his five bowlers from days one to five, given the match situation or prevalent conditions when someone as experienced as Ishant takes a backseat.
It points to the bowlers’ quick adaptation as the game progresses, each of them comfortable with this fluidity. It has given the Indian attack a well-rounded look as they are now primed for tougher battles later in the season.