Varun Shetty in Kolkata
India’s home season in Tests this year has been short – five matches, all done in under two months or so. They have delivered on the dominance that was expected of them, but some new methods and some new faces were introduced. At the end of it, they are also sitting comfortably on top of the World Test Championship table with a perfect record and 360 points after three series. Here is a review of the season, and where things stand before their next Test series, in New Zealand in February 2020.
The fast bowlers did it at home
Even more so than the spinners. This is the first time since England did it in 1978 that a Test team has had three fast bowlers who have taken more than 20 wickets each in a year while averaging under 20. It’s phenomenal that those three bowlers – Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, and Umesh Yadav – have managed to do that playing five of those eight Tests at home.
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This home season, India’s three spinners took 37 wickets between them. The three fast bowlers took 59, that too in the absence of strike bowler Jasprit Bumrah. They also managed to win a Test without a wicket from their spinners, which is also a first at home. There is little debate about the health of India’s pace bowling at the end of this season.
What about the spinners?
R Ashwin took 20 wickets in five matches at home after being benched in the West Indies. With no cricket at home until 2021 as of now, it remains to be seen what chances he has to make in the India XI outside Asia.
Ravindra Jadeja has become a rounded player and has been superb at No. 6. But his bowling has been below-par this season. Jadeja took 13 wickets at 36.07 in these five home Tests, his worst ever returns in a home season.
Will Jadeja’s rise as a batsman at No. 6 mean Ashwin gets a look in during the upcoming overseas Tests, or will India continue using Jadeja as the sole spinner? In the middle of all that, Kuldeep Yadav has slipped out of the conversation somewhat. The wristspinner could well be a surprise choice overseas.
India have had trouble with their opening combinations over the last two years because a majority of their matches were abroad, combined with form and fitness issues of some batsmen. At home, that problem seems to have gone away.
Mayank Agarwal had made his case quickly in the opportunities that he got overseas, but he cashed in big time in his first home season. He was a makeshift option on the Australia tour, but made his case, and two double-centuries later, is now arguably India’s No. 1 choice as opener.
The other spot, for now, is in the hands of Rohit Sharma, who has repaid the faith shown in him with big runs in an unfamiliar role in long-form cricket. He is likely to hold on to that spot in the next series, in New Zealand, but will India persist with uncapped Shubman Gill as back-up opener in what could be difficult conditions to start in? A full Ranji Trophy season waits in the middle for the likes of Abhimanyu Easwaran, Priyank Panchal, and KL Rahul to challenge him. In addition to that, Prithvi Shaw, who scored a century on Test debut, has also returned after his suspension with runs in the ongoing Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
The mystery around the first-choice wicketkeeper ended when India deemed Wriddhiman Saha was fully ready to be brought back into the team. He has slotted right back in and in a very small time frame, displayed everything that made him an automatic pick in the first place.
Incidentally, this comeback has happened at a time when Rishabh Pant has faced a decline in form and severe public scrutiny, across formats. In the last few days of the Bangladesh series, KS Bharat found his way into the squad when Pant was released to play domestic cricket. Bharat has been India A’s regular wicketkeeper for nearly two years and was among the contenders last year before Pant leapfrogged him in comprehensive fashion. Is this his way back in?
India’s catching in the slips lapsed somewhat. According to ESPNcricinfo’s data, India failed to take 14 chances this home season. Seven of those were classified as regulation catching chances, with the rest classified as tougher ones.
Against Bangladesh, India had a particularly poor catching match in Indore, where at least five catching chances weren’t converted. Ajinkya Rahane was involved in three of those, and Virat Kohli and Rohit in the other two. Rahane also put one down in Kolkata.
With the seamers in red-hot form, the slip cordon will be regularly in play in overseas Tests and India will be looking to tighten up on their catching.