MOMENTS AFTER India’s 3-0 series win over South Africa, commentator Sanjay Manjrekar asked India head coach Ravi Shastri: “What’s the difference between this team and the team that you took charge five years ago?” In his first innings at India’s helm, Shastri had seen the team beat South Africa 3-0. But that achievement, unlike this one, was overshadowed by the delivish turners that the hosts had rolled out in Nagpur and Mohali.
“Bhaad mein gaya pitch (to hell with the pitch). 20 wickets and the World Test Championship points are what we are after,” thundered Shastri on Tuesday, hammering home the real difference between the two Indian teams. That this current side doesn’t need tailored pitches to deliver.
Unlike the past, where India spinners would trap visiting non-subcontinental batsmen on crumbling wickets, India’s clinical decimation of South Africa was caused, fundamentally, by their pacers on what could be described as sporting tracks. Just to put things into perspective, Mohammad Shami with 14.76 and Umesh Yadav at 12.18 lead the averages for bowlers in this series. In contrast, off-spinner R Ashwin, who finished as the highest wicket-taker with 15 scalps, averages 25.26, which is at par with his overall career average. Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja didn’t quite look the force that he is at home usually, taking 13 wickets at 30.69. These numbers further underline the fast bowlers’ dominance, who have hitherto been relegated to the role of the supporting cast on Indian pitches.
The pacers’ skill set played a part, no doubt, but it also helped that the tracks at all three venues — Visakhapatnam, Pune and Ranchi — were fair enough to keep them interested. While there was turn on offer, as is traditionally the case in India, they weren’t slow and menacing sand-pits that one generally witnesses in this neck of the woods. Consequently, the Indian pacers extracted reverse swing, used the short ball to good effect, and were, overall, more attacking than their South African counterparts.
In a wider context, it also displays the metamorphosis of this unit that rarely relies on external factors to exert its dominance. Instead, India rely on their immensely talented bowling unit to get 20 wickets, which inherently aligns with Shastri’s mantra — take the pitch out of the equation.
“Our aim is to take pitches out of the equation,” Shastri told Star Sports. “You have to take 20 wickets, whether it’s Johannesburg, Mumbai, Delhi, Auckland or even Melbourne. So the task is to take 20 wickets. How do you do that? For that, you need fast bowlers, spinners, a complete bowling unit.”
It certainly helps that the Indian bowlers have enough runs behind them when they take the field. Shastri’s batsmen, with a blend of caution and aggression, stacked up run mountains in the series. “Once you take 20 wickets, with the batsmen we have, if that clicks, it’s like a Ferrari. The batting line-up we have, with Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Mayank Agarwal, if they start scoring, and then you have the five bowlers who can take 20 wickets,” Shastri explained.
What would have pleased Shastri even more is the seamless transition of Rohit as a Test opener and the resurgence of Rahane. A lot was on the line for them. Many believed this would be a ‘make-or-break’ series for Rohit. He accepted the challenge with glee, slamming back-to-back centuries in the first Test at Vizag and then following it up with a double ton in Ranchi.
Rahane silenced his critics with a sublime century in Ranchi. “Rahane’s scene was that he had to rediscover himself and he did that. Sharma’s scenario was slightly different. As an opener, your mindset has to be different…you don’t know how the pitch will behave. On the first day in Ranchi, it was a difficult pitch but he endured. First two hours he faced everything; he had to leave the balls, was beaten, was struck on the pad but his thinking was he needed to survive those two hours, maybe the wicket will be good to bat on after lunch. And that’s exactly what happened,” Shastri elaborated.
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