#newera, same old test cricket

Match Analysis

The attention of coach Rahul Dravid has reached parody levels, but on the pitch did not change much, which means that India again has a dominant position

With Virat Kohli resting after the T20 World Cup, the marketing of Indian cricket to the casual fan has centered on #newera with reference to new coach Rahul Dravid, which is a disfavor for cricket and also for Dravid himself, who is the last person to demand attention. No press conference, no spot interview, no special programming has gone without trying to look for the Dravid influence in even the most trivial things.

Those who tried to overthrow Dravid have complained that there has been no experimentation in the T20 XI without thinking that the series was still alive. They have questioned why the team does not strike first to become better at setting totals, even though he as ODI captain made them strike second to become better at chasing. There is even some mumbling about how often the cameras pan to him. On the charitable side of things, his humility has emerged, as has his invitation to legends in the game of handing out caps to debutants. His offspin in the nets has been played on loop.

It is fitting that on the first day of the test cricket with Dravid as coach we did not learn anything new about the test cricket. On his first day of Test cricket in Asia, Kyle Jamieson proved to be a phenomenal Test bowler, which we knew. Tim Southee surprised no one with his cunning use of angles and various grips. Shreyas Iyer demonstrated the well-known depth of percussion talent in India. Ravindra Jadeja showed why he has been the most important member of this test site since his comeback as an all-rounder.
Most importantly, the first day reiterated that you need deep attacks to compete on the road. There is probably no greater challenge for a test team today than traveling to India and losing the draw. The last time India lost a home test after winning the lottery was nine years ago. Out of 18 such matches since that defeat to England, two have been drawn due to the weather and only one of the 16 wins has been by a margin of under 100 runs.

Jamieson and Southee got the best out of the situation after being asked to bowl on a slow and low Kanpur course. Jamieson in particular showed his immaculate understanding of test cricket and the ability to back it up. He was quick to find the full length to bring the batteries forward without letting them run. Remember, this is not how he operates under useful conditions, getting behind Southee and Trent Boult and bowling dry lengths before going for the fuller ball that pulls the edge.

Jamieson bowled enough good balls to take advantage of the old saying “it takes a ball to get them out”. That was really the case with Shubman Gill and Ajinkya Rahane. Gill curtailed his move across England to stay next to the ball and score freely, which he did, but he fell to perhaps the first ball to turn and it turned remarkably early. Another day is the first ball that does not behave like this, in goal, and you get the chance to tighten your game. On this day, Gill’s stump went for a walk.

The same thing happened with Rahane, who everyone knows does not have the runs: an average of 25 in his last 15 tests. You can not discard the cold evidence, but he has beaten better than the numbers suggest.

A big indicator of where Rahane’s game is is how eager he is to hit an early frontier. He is a flashy starter: In the three years leading up to the Australia tour, no Indian batter had scored more streaky boundaries in the first 30 balls of a game than Rahane, even though he had a fairly low strike rate during that period. Since Australia, Rahane has been more confident before he really struggled in the second half of the England tour. In Kanpur, he looked calm, in the middle of most of the balls he played, had a control percentage close to 90, but came out to one that remained low from the exact length he had cut away for four previously.

On Rahane’s day, this bottom edge goes to four. It has happened before. It was Jamieson’s day.

Southee does not have the unsettling pace or jump, but he does have a nice outswinger. Early in the play, he threw distorted seams to look for lbw, and when it started to turn, he went wide out on the fold, turned the shiny side outside, made Pujara play the angle, and then took the edge with a wax swing.

At the other end, however, New Zealand would have seen worrying signs with balls holding low and the odd one turning from straight. And yet it was only the second time since 2001 that spinners hit 50 overs in a day in India without a wicket. It raised the same old question that is being asked of visitor pages: should you just pick your best bowler instead of two spinners?

New Zealand’s choices should not be mistaken in hindsight. Had they been beaten first, their spinners would have been given more useful conditions. And even if they had gone with only one, it would have been Ajaz Patel, who had a regular day struggling to put together a series of good balls, going after 78 in 21 overs, even after bowling his last pair . overlooks well outside leg to Iyer.
Iyer was never meant to play in this series. A closer candidate for the first XI was sent to South Africa on the A-Tour and he was only a back-up. That he could play in to cover for KL Rahul’s injury and score effective unbeaten 75 on debut from a difficult situation shows you how good India’s reserves are. Thus, he anticipated the lack of depth in New Zealand’s attack.

The moment they were forced to throw two spinners in tandem, thanks to a niggle to Southee, Iyer threw himself. Jadeja once again underlined Hanuma Vihari’s misfortune: India have a specialized bowler who is good enough to beat number 6.

Batting will not ease as it did for Iyer and Jadeja – who were undoubtedly good enough to take advantage of it – because India has just bowled to these conditions. It will require a huge effort from New Zealand and the weather not to add to the list of comfortable victories for India when they win the draw at home. As for #newera, give them some time before making decisions. They are not here to make statements to make statements.

Sidharth Monga is Assistant Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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