How do you react to a badgering? By giving one back, of course. The Indian cricket team showed that even at 2-0 down that they can come back strong with a performance for the ages at Nottingham. When was the last time India put in such a complete performance outside the subcontinent? Beating the West Indies in 2016 was no big deal, it was always on the cards. The 2014 Lord’s win came on the back of a terrific second innings effort. Durban ’10 was a closely fought affair. Maybe Perth 2008? Or Headingley 2002?
Forget about total domination, India’s wins outside the subcontinent are rare occurrences as it is. But imagine it comes after a close-fought heart-wrenching defeat in the first Test, and an absolute hammering in the second. If thoughts of throwing in the towel ensued, it was understandable. That perhaps would have happened with Indian teams of the past.
This one seems to be cut from a different cloth. In South Africa, they came back to finish the series 2-1. And now in Nottingham, they’ve pulled one back with a performance they will remember for a long time.
Indian cricket has far counted on individual performances to bail them out outside Asia, but here in Nottingham, the team stood up as a whole.
It started with Shikhar Dhawan.
The left hander had come into the game under pressure. He had been dropped after failing in the first Test, only to be brought back after Vijay’s failure in the next. Dhawan could have chosen the Azharuddin way out, given he was an attacking player himself. But he approached it with more caution, maturity and planning.
Dhawan loves the drive, but he took it out of his game in the first innings. He instead looked to score square of the wicket, using his favourite cut shots. He also prepped up on his defence. He started to meet the ball much later than he usually does, thus reducing his bat speed.
It’s almost impossible to consciously reduce one’s bat speed while playing. But Dhawan brought in three gears to his play. When in gear one, he would play the ball as late as possible, most times right under his eyes. By defending late, he would ensure that the bat did not come down in a hurry to meet the ball, but rather let the ball come and meet the bat. It also allowed him the time to make an adjustment if the ball swing late. Anything wider, and he would just leave.
Gear two was to wait for the wide ball. He would still play late, but when the ball went wide, Dhawan would latch on to it. It happened multiple times in the first innings as Dhawan played the cut to send the ball screaming towards the boundary. Gear three arrived when he was fully confident, as he was in the second innings. Now his drives came back to him, and he did not need to worry about bat speed.
The tactic allowed Dhawan to get India off to fifty-run opening stands on both occasions. It let the Indian middle order build on from there. Ajinkya Rahane picked up from the same too.
During his knock in the first innings, the middle-order batsman hardly looked to drive. Even when the balls were full, he would just offer a straight bat rather than look to drive. It helped him shrug off his poor run and give him a morale boosting innings. Pujara put a big price on his wicket, while Kohli just continued his pristine form.
The confidence seeped into India’s fielding department as well.
Rishabh Pant showed no nerves as he completed five catches behind the stumps in the first essay. A minor blip was his drop of Jos Buttler in the second, but overall he showed great composure and reactions in his first ever Test. Not far away, KL Rahul had a storming time at second slip.
India’s slip catching has been far from impressive in recent times, but Rahul showed how valuable he can be, and how potent the bowlers can be made to look if catches are held on. He plucked out seven catches at second slip during the match. Virat Kohli added his stamp too with a fantastic diving catch at third slip in England’s first innings.
Then the bowlers. England may have more celebrated names in James Anderson and Stuart Broad, but India’s attack showed itself as more adaptable. They quickly learnt from bowling too short with the new ball in the first innings and started to bowl much fuller. The result? England were blown away in a session, folding for just 161.
In the second innings, Kohli started with Ishant Sharma instead of Shami, an extremely sensible move considering Ishant’s preference to left-handers and record against Cook. It immediately worked, and gave India the left-handed openers. With Root, they came out with a plan in place, bowling consistently full before bowling one shorter and wider. Root edged to slip soon after.
Even when Buttler and Ben Stokes were in the middle of a marathon stand, India’s bowlers were patient. They still attacked when they could and waited for the one chance that would shift momentum. There was no sense of panic, and they didn’t see the need to keep switching plans to get the batsmen out. Eventually, with the new ball, they struck and proceeded to wipe out the tail.
“All I asked the boys was to give me some accountability and there were simply magnificent in all three departments of the game. As a head coach, I can’t ask for more. I’m just proud of the guys. They way they stood up, came out here, competed and played,” said a delighted Ravi Shastri at the end of the match.
It was no surprise that he was. It was the perfect response to an almost no-hope situation. It was one of Indian cricket’s greatest moments in recent times.