Very rarely would a drawn series leave you with a feeling of defeat. England’s seven-wicket hammering of India on Tuesday, which meant the Patuadi Trophy ended 2–2 and extended India’s barren run of a series win in England to 15 years, does have a feeling of a lost opportunity to it.
Much optimism surrounded the start of this Test match. The hosts were coming on a high, having whitewashed New Zealand 3–0 with a cavalier approach, that had made many in the cricketing world stand up and take notice.
India arrived in England, knowing that a rare Test series win in the country beckoned. The previous regime, under Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri had done the hard yards last year. Now it was upto Rahul Dravid and his troops to finish the job at Birmingham.
At the halfway point, India looked like they were on their way to complete the unfinished business. By bowling England out for 284 in the first innings and taking a 132-run lead, they were one fine, collective batting performance away from securing the series with a draw, if not winning it 3–1.
Resuming at 125–3 on Day 4, they had set the platform for it. The lead was 257 runs and ideally, the visitors would have wanted 200 runs more to seal the deal.
But, a combination of poor strokes and good bowling from England meant that India could not get to even 400. 378 runs, on most days, should be a good score to defend in the fourth innings. However, it wasn’t to be as Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow struck centuries and ensured the hosts coasted home to a series-levelling win.
While the Root-Bairstow onslaught would have hurt India enormously, another stand that would have annoyed them equally was the one between Alex Lees and Zak Crawley for the first wicket. The 107-run foundation laid by them not only put the other batters at ease, but showed India what a golden opportunity they had missed of batting the hosts out of the game in the third innings on a placid wicket and under pleasant overhead conditions.
This was not the first time, in 2022, that India had failed to take the game by the scruff of the neck in the third innings. In the series decider at Cape Town India had taken a 13-run lead against South Africa, but barring Rishabh Pant’s terrific 100, none of the other batters stood up to the challenge and it meant South Africa only needed 212 runs to win the series, which they did by seven wickets.
The ability to score big in the third innings is something India did well in the previous regime under Shastri and Kohli. At The Oval last year, India trailed England by 99 runs on the first innings. But a century from Rohit Sharma and key late-order contributions from Pant and Shardul Thakur meant India were able to give England a challenging total of 368 runs to chase in the final innings which, despite a fine start, proved too much for the hosts.
In 2018, at Johannesburg and at Trent Bridge the batting stood up again in the third innings to ensure the bowlers had enough runs to win the game. You could argue that a few players back then had a bit more confidence in their game, one of which was Kohli who made a combined total of 200 runs in the Nottingham win but batting in the third innings is an aspect the team management and others must look into closely.
The bowling on most days will keep performing, but India’s batting superstars cannot be the downfall to so many defeats.
As a result of the loss, India now find themselves fourth on the World Test Championships table. The away run to SENA countries has reached a full stop, with India managing to win only in Australia at the start of 2021.
With the focus now shifting to white-ball cricket for the next few months, India may not have a lot of time to think about the errors made at Edgbaston. One can, however, hope that when they don the white flannels again, they remember the mistakes and don’t repeat them.