India: Hoping For a 4-0 Series Win

Via LastWordOnCricket by Arjun Bhardwaj, Anirudh Srinivaas Eswaran and Matt Roller

India have dominated the last two Tests against England, and go into Thursday’s fixture at Mumbai looking to continue their excellent home form.

The hosts have not lost a home Test since England’s 2012/13 tour, and Virat Kohli and co. will be desperate to keep that record up as they try to cement their number one ranking in Tests.

LWOS Cricket‘s Arjun BhardwajAnirudh Srinivaas Eswaran and Matt Roller discuss the important questions that India face ahead of the Mumbai Test.

1. Is anything less than a 4-0 win in this series a failure for India?

AB:  India have dominated this series on the whole and they should aim to do this for the last two Tests. On the whole they’ve looked in complete control and a failure to carry on this form would be a disaster.

However, India definitely need to be wary of the Mumbai pitch.

If it is as pace-friendly as the first reports suggest, then it could well be the case that the Test tomorrow could easily end in a draw or an England win. The England seamers have looked threatening already, even on pitches that offer barely any assistance for them and this should be the pitch most suited for them.

However, the final Test should be a walk in the park for India. The Chennai pitch is expected, as always, to be a raging turner. It would suit India’s style of play drastically and it’ll be a completely different challenge for the English batsman.

With the absence of Haseeb Hameed as well, England’s side is definitely vulnerable. As a result of this, I think it would be unfair to label a 3-0 win a failure for India, but anything less than that would be a catastrophe.

ASE: I’m inclined to say no. This has been a closely fought series and there have been situations during the Test matches where had England done a little better, the outcome could’ve been very different.

Also, the pitches so far have been good sporting wickets with none of them being rank turners as many thought it’d be. There has been assistance for both the quicks and the spinners and as in any first-class game, spinners tend to have a better share as the game progresses into the latter stages.

Finally, it’s not to be forgotten than this England squad contains no mugs. They’ve performed exceedingly well in the last 18 months and have won the Ashes and beat South Africa on their home turf which is no easy feat. India have played the better cricket so far and there’s every possibility that they could win it 4-0 but even then, a solid series win would be a great achievement for this young side.

MR: India simply have to win this series 4-0. Not only would a victory by that convincing a scoreline do wonders for their ICC Test Ranking points, it would give the relatively young squad a great deal of confidence moving forwards as a unit.

Virat Kohli and coach Anil Kumble will both have an eye on 2017’s home series against Australia, and whilst Steve Smith’s side are in disarray at the moment, India will recognise that if they are to beat Pakistan in the upcoming series, Australia will come to India without any fear of defeat.

Furthermore, England’s faltering batting line-up will provide opportunities for Messrs. Yadav, Shami, Ashwin and Jadeja to further their excellent recent form. Despite the current scoreline, India have not quite been at their best this series; it is vital that the bowling unit clicks before that Australia series.

2. Is Ravichandran Ashwin the world’s best all-rounder?

Ashwin bowling in Australia [Getty]
AB: Yes I think he is. Ashwin has been a phenomenal bowler for India, picking up countless wickets this year (especially against New Zealand).

It is hard to look beyond a better Test bowler at the moment, and he is ranked currently as the best Test bowler in the world by quite some distance. His off-spin has been the key for India in home series, but has admittedly looked less threatening overseas.

He has recently proven himself to be a highly talented batsman and is currently the third highest run-scorer for India this series. It is great to see the Indian selectors having faith in his batting, with him batting at six for India’s tour of the West Indies. At the moment he is ranked as the number one Test all-rounder and I definitely agree with this judgement.

ASE: Ravichandran Ashwin’s rise in the last 18 months has been nothing short of incredible. He has averaged 45.41 with the bat in this calendar year and has picked a lot of wickets, too. He has been the man of the series in series wins over Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand and now, potentially, against England too.

He has become a senior member of this young side and has been very consistent with both bat and ball. There are contenders to this title of being the best all-rounder, such as Ben Stokes and Angelo Mathews, but the sheer numbers and output Ashwin has produced makes it difficult to look past him when it comes to being the best.

MR: This series has pitted the world’s top two all-rounders – Ashwin and Ben Stokes – up against each other.

Stokes’ 267 runs at 53.4 have transformed him into a senior batsman in a struggling England middle-order, and his five-wicket haul in tough circumstances at Mohali underlined his bowling credentials.

Ashwin, meanwhile, has made 239 runs at a shade under 50 and taken 15 wickets at 31.5. His batting has come on leaps and bounds in the past eighteen months, and even though he has not been as threatening as usual this series, he is still the hosts’ leading wicket-taker.

However, whilst recognising my national bias, I am inclined to suggest that Stokes is a marginally superior all-rounder at the moment. This is largely based on the fact that whilst Ashwin’s record outside of India is somewhat underwhelming, whereas Stokes’ performances improve slightly away from home: whereas Ashwin’s batting average drops by 4.53 in away Tests and his bowling average rises by 8.48, Stokes’ batting rises by 3.47 and bowling drops by 2.28.

Thus, despite Ashwin’s remarkable performances in 2016, Ben Stokes just edges him out as the world’s top all-rounder.

3. How many seamers should India pick?

AB: The pitches haven’t turned as much as everyone expected going into the series. At the moment its been relatively tame and nothing seen like in the Bangladesh series. So far, India have perhaps been fortunate to get away with playing two seamers; the conditions have been hot and it has been extremely hard for them to bowl long spells. Luckily for them, their spinners have done a great job in maintaining pressure early on.

However, the first reports are that the Mumbai pitch is likely to offer some pace and bounce. It may be the case that India play an extra seamer for this Test. I would pick the attack of Yadav, Kumar and Thakur (with Shami a doubt through injury). Alternatively, India could look to the inexperienced all-rounder Hardik Pandya as a third option who would provide depth in their batting as well. For Chennai, though, where it is expected to turn, I’d keep the balance of the side as it is.

ASE:  India have played with two fast bowlers and three spinners all series. It’s extremely unlikely that India will change the combination, primarily because Ashwin and Jadeja are indispensable. Jayant Yadav, the third spinner, has looked really good with both bat and ball. He provides a lot with the bat in the lower order and making a change could upset the balance. As the famous saying goes, “why fix it when it ain’t broken?”. Shami, who’s suffering from a knock, is likely be rested and Bhuvneshwar Kumar is likely to replace him and when it comes to the bowling combination, it’s difficult to see any other change being made.

MR: I’m on the same page as Anirudh here. Regarding selection, the most important question for India is who would England least like to face, and with Shami missing through injury, it seems obvious that the visitors would prefer to come up against the medium pace of Pandya or Thakur than Jayant Yadav’s tricky off-spin.

Keaton Jennings’ selection means that England have yet another left-hander in their top order, and the ball that turns away from the bat will continue to be a vital weapon regardless of the Mumbai surface.

Therefore, India should continue their two seamers strategy, with Bhuvneshwar replacing Shami.