India’s victory at the Oval against England ensured they retain the Pataudi Trophy but the sweetness of carrying it back home will only be enjoyable if they win the series.
The Indian side has had its ups and downs. The opening pair of Rohit Sharma and K.L. Rahul has been one of the success stories. Especially Rohit Sharma, who has made a complete change in his approach to batting. He has improved his technique by playing closer to his body and has controlled his stroke-play. A natural striker of the cricket ball, he has played well within himself for the success of his team. This, during our playing days, was what Sunil Gavaskar did for India as well.
Jasprit Bumrah showed how lethal he could be, even when the wicket was docile and unhelpful. The Oval pitch has brought about many a wonderful performance and the two that immediately come to mind is that of Michael Holding for West Indies and Waqar Younis for Pakistan.
The spell bowled by Jasprit Bumrah would be counted in that class. Bumrah is now one of the best bowlers in the world in all formats of the game. One is still bewildered on seeing such pace, especially with a non-descriptive run-up or without the muscular, strong and tall physique that one associates with a fast bowler.
However, the cricketer who once again surprised everyone, including his opponents, was Shardul Thakur. A gritty cricketer from Mumbai, he has been a frontline swing bowler of repute. The surprising factor in his early Test career has been his batting.
A first-class batting record not much to tom-tom about, he has shown how useful he can be as a lower-order batsman. One looked at his half century in Australia as a one-off performance. He has proved that he is far more than that with the two half centuries in the Oval Test match.
Shardul Thakur, to me, was the man of the match and not Rohit Sharma. One was happy to hear Rohit also accept the fact that his Mumbai colleague deserved it more than him.
The two late Nawabs of Pataudi, both having led India in England, would have been proud of the present team and the way it plays the game. Both of them played their cricket hard, aggressively and in a positive manner.
Virat Kohli, the captain, has a similar approach to the way he leads but with a modern slant to it. He seems to be a cat on a hot tin roof. One rarely sees him stay still, as he is hopping around, dancing and jumping at every ball delivered on the field. His enthusiasm, eagerness and emotions are there for one and all to see. It seems to be the tonic that induces the pep required to enthuse and charge his fellow mates as well.
There is that element of naughtiness and openness that one does not associate with most leaders in any walk of life. This is a characteristic one normally identifies with childishness, immaturity and a lack of seriousness but not with leadership. Kohli epitomises the breed of young millennial leaders who are not scared to express themselves in any situation they are put in. It is a characteristic similar to that of many of the young successful entrepreneurs who have excelled in the fast moving and ever escalating current world of ours.
Virat Kohli’s leadership in the second innings of the fourth Test at the Oval was brilliant. The wicket was playing beautifully and a chase of 367 runs looked to be a possibility for England.
Kohli smartly attacked with a defensive field, thereby starving the batsmen for runs, which in the latter part of the day gave him the opportunity to attack. This was a well thought out ploy as at the lunch interval, England had barely made any progress towards the target. This itself made them go into a shell and the English side looked to draw the game rather than think of a win.
The fifth and final Test match at Old Trafford should be an ideal setting for an India win.
India look a better batting, bowling and a fielding outfit. The Indian side looks stronger mentally and physically sharper and fitter than the English side. The only factor that worries one is their inconsistency. Every Indian player seems to contribute and do well if the tide is flowing well. But if the tide ebbs, they all seem to play below par together.
The final eleven of the Indian side that won the last Test match, in most probability, will be retained if all are fit. The only exception could be Ajinkya Rahane in the middle-order.
India’s think tank, one feels, will pursue with him especially as he has the experience and proven ability to break out of his shackles.
Lifting the glorious Pataudi Trophy through a definitive series win will be just the ideal tribute for India’s dynamic captain and cricketer, Mansoor Ali Khan (Tiger) Pataudi, on his 10th Death anniversary.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer)