April 2, 2017

How significant are India's gains this season?

They have greater depth in their bowling now, and a few of their batsmen have made large strides
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Jadeja: now with added effectiveness, courtesy a retooled line of attack © AFP

India put on a grand show in their grand home season. Especially in the last Test match, in Dharamsala, which produced a home win on an overseas-style pitch - one with bounce and lateral movement but no prodigious turn.

There is so much to talk about India's performance, because there was so much cricket. Why don't I do it by picking out the players who were especially good and were able to keep their standards high through the long season?

Ravindra Jadeja. He just got better as the season went on. The humongous number of overs he bowled seemed to take absolutely no toll. This is where his supreme fitness came into play. His bowling in his last innings of the season had the same energy as his first. But to put his success all down to his fitness would be wrong, and unfair to him.

Jadeja has made some changes to his bowling - most notably to his line. He now bowls mostly outside the off stump - the "overseas line" - as opposed to the traditional "Indian-pitches line" that most Indian left-arm spinners use, where you go wide of the crease and fire the ball onto the middle stump, letting the pitch get the ball to turn across the face of the bat. When there is no "Indian turn", as these left-arm spinners found out when they went overseas, that line becomes too easy for batsmen to deal with.

The sweep is the main shot used to dominate against such a line. The ball is basically coming into the batsman from a wide angle on the crease and pitching on middle, and he just needs to help it on its way for runs.

With no batsman in the world able to pick which of Jadeja's deliveries will turn and which won't, his outside-off-stump line has become a nightmare for those facing him. They are forced to play at balls pitching outside off too, worried that those might come back in with the arm and knock the stumps over. This has opened up more wicket-taking modes for Jadeja. He also took a few wickets where he got the batsmen to drive. There is some guile and deception in his bowling now.

R Ashwin made this change in his line a couple of seasons ago. India now have two spinners bowling the overseas line, which holds promise for when they next travel after this long spell at home.

We know Umesh Yadav always had the talent, but under Virat Kohli, his doubts have vanished; he knows his captain backs him, come what may, and this has done wonders for his state of mind

KL Rahul was not as prolific as Cheteshwar Pujara, and he also missed a few games because of injury, but come the Australia series, he progressed from being a good batsman to a class one. That he is an opener who is comfortable against pace and bounce will be a great bonus for India when they play overseas.

I have always felt, having watched Rahul in Under-19 cricket, that he over-attacked at the international level. Remember his Test debut, in Melbourne, and his effort to try and dominate? He played two expansive shots to get out early in both innings. Similarly, his dismissal in Pune in this series got some flak for the way he got out at a crucial time and because of what followed - India losing seven wickets for 11 runs.

It proved to be a blessing in disguise in two ways. First, he realised how a match can change dramatically when a set batsman gets out. Second, he injured his shoulder playing that lofted shot, and he said later how that prevented him from playing shots of that sort. Boom! In comes consistency.

Now he does not hit the ball in the air as much or over-attack as much. He has found the right balance of attack and defence to suit his temperament.

Rahul at the Under-19 level was not a dasher, like, say, Virender Sehwag, who was always an "attack first, defend second" batsman. Rahul has become defence-first now, which is in sync with his temperament.

Umesh Yadav. Like with Jadeja, Umesh's natural fitness and easy bowling action enabled him to perform superbly through the long season. Like with Jadeja, his potency was the same from the first game to the last.

What has changed with him? My reading is: his self-belief. We know he always had the talent, but under Virat Kohli, his doubts have vanished; he knows his captain backs him, come what may, and this has done wonders for his state of mind. We see the effects of this on the field, especially in his accuracy.

How will he do overseas? Many Asian bowlers before him, similar in style, have had better records on the dead, low-bounce subcontinental pitches than on overseas pitches. Let's hope he can be an exception.

KL Rahul has learned to keep his attacking instincts in check, to good effect © Associated Press

Virat Kohli had a quiet series against Australia, but in the two series that preceded it, he showed that he is a batsman in a different league. There is a big distance between him and the rest of India's batsmen these days.

Cheteshwar Pujara took his application to the next level, showing great mental reserves to play tough "buckle-down" innings one after the other. Even after 11 hours at the crease in Ranchi, he was ready to put his head down for another big one in Dharamsala.

He was hit on the helmet three times against England in Rajkot, but that discomfort was not seen again after that, nor his vulnerability against the middle-stump line.

His keenness to get onto the front foot to everything is less pronounced now. That habit, formed among many Indian batsmen in the Duncan Fletcher era, seems to be waning. Good sign.

There were others, like Wriddhiman Saha, who grew in stature as the season went on. Ashwin produced a match-winning spell in Bengaluru to prove that a match-winning impact from him is never too far away.

Overall, there were clearly more gains than losses for India. The bowling seems to have more depth now; there aren't just one or two wicket-takers, as has been the case with India forever. When Rahul Dravid retired, people were crying out for a good No. 3 to fill his big boots. I wrote at the time that India needed to find three world-class bowlers instead, who could win matches for the team all over the world. In Mohammed Shami, Jadeja, and Ashwin, India now have three potential world-class performers with the ball for all conditions.

Home dominance is not a new thing in Indian cricket, but has Indian cricket evolved and reached new heights this season? We will know only after trips to England, South Africa and Australia. There is some promise, though.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • VINAY on April 6, 2017, 13:12 GMT

    Were Karun Nayar, and Mukund not ready for this level. Karun played one inning but looked lost after that. Abhinav didn't use his chance. Ishant may not have been that effective but tried his best.

  • SK on April 5, 2017, 5:29 GMT

    Everytime we perform well in india, our expectations go high & wait for an abroad trip. Normally ends up disappointed. not saying that it will happen again. As long as there are no major injuries, this team has the capability to perform well abroad. Abroad we need to have 5 bowlers. those have to be Shami, Yadav,Bhuvi, Ashwin & Jadeja on current form. How well they will perform, only time can tell. 5 batsmen + Saha should be enuf, with Ashwin & Jadeja chipping in. who will be the 5 additional players in addition to the playing XI will be the million dollar question. Kuldeep yadav shud be there as 12th man. the rest 4 places, I wud take Parthiv patel, Karun Nair, Ishant (if there is no other choice) & Amit Mishra.

  • P Subramani on April 5, 2017, 5:09 GMT

    Virat Kohli has made a big difference in the development of Umesh Yadav as a potent fast bowler, who is also very fit. Jadeja was always star material as could be seen in Shane Warne highlighting his "Rockstar" status. From his U 19 days, those that have followed him could see that was capable of evolving on his own. If has determined the line to bowl to be successful abroad, it is this quality of his. I have no doubt that he will do well in South Africa and elsewhere. His accuracy is what makes him a match-winner despite not being much of a flighter of the ball.Shami will do well if he is fit. There is simply no doubt about it because he has all the wares of pace movement of the ball laterally. Ashwin will do well if he realises that he needs to be more of an orthodox off spinner when playing away rather than trying out too many variations as he is wont to do. Like Tayfield in South Africa or Mallett in Australia or Laker in England, Ashwin too could be a match winning off spinner.

  • Vidyadhar on April 4, 2017, 18:34 GMT

    The success during the long season is due to the Team Spirit that has been instilled under Kumble and Kohli. Everyone played for the team first. One of the commentators was wondering if Rhane was squandering his future by going for quick runs as the team required. Needless to say Rahane also played according to the needs of the team. The encouragement and confidence shown by the team management pushed the players to give 100%. Wish they keep adding to their winning ways.

  • Heramb on April 4, 2017, 14:16 GMT

    Plain and simple it has been India's lower order batting ability comprising Saha,Ashwin,Jadeja,Jayant,Bhuvi that bailed India out from precarious situations time and again through 13 home Tests in 2016-17. India's top order batting appeared suspect right through the season mirrored by the inconsistency of Vijay & the spate of failures of Rahane sandwiched between his 188 against NZ in Indore and career-saving 52 against Australia in Bangalore.The consistency displayed by Rahul in the Test series against Australia was the only positive from a batting perspective though the bucketful of runs scored by Kohli with 4 double tons in 4 consecutive Test series starting from India's 2016 WI tour deserves special mention. Jadeja and Ashwin were expected to be India's lynch pins for India's successes through 4 home series but Umesh's contributions with the ball proved the difference after Shami was rendered unfit after the Mohali Test against England.India should do well on their 2017 tour of SL

  •   Kamlesh Bhatt on April 4, 2017, 13:25 GMT

    Well articulated and a mature article with your usual strong grip over the language. Although indian players had a good season at home, there are still so many questions as to what will happen to this Asian Lion,when it goes to places like England,South Africa and Australia. We can say that we are Test Champions only after we destroy the Englishmen on Headingley's swinging turf and Durban & Perth's bouncy tracks.

  • Tushar on April 4, 2017, 13:17 GMT

    Th article seems to be well-analyzed and well-written. But not sure why Sanjay missed out on mentioning about Bhuvi here. Being a world-class bowler, he still is only considered as a backup option and every time he got a chance, he produced some real good performances. A mention about Jayant Yadav too would have been good as in the few tests that he played, he delivered very well with the ball as well as the bat.

  • sriyad8332467 on April 4, 2017, 12:35 GMT

    The recently concluded India Aussies series proves that any team with talented young players with the guidance of experinced team members can glorify the teams performance to the large extent. Only youngsters or only experienced cannot win the game. In India for that matter in any country there will be lot of talented players . They have to be encouraged and give opportunities to bloom . They might fail in the beginning for so many reasons. But selectors need to. Nourish them and bring their best and make them super. The youngsters need to put their hearts into the game instead of casual approach once they are called to the team. The captains and respective coaches should nourish them with confidence and try to help the buds of the team to bloom.

  • siddharth on April 4, 2017, 11:40 GMT

    Every team has flaws and this Indian team is no exception. As most of them have already pointed out, we need to improve our slip catching. Apart from Rahane, the rest look clueless. Another worry is the lack of a reliable number 6 batsman (in case we decide to go in with 4 bowlers). Nair is not convincing, yeah sure he scored a triple but that was on a absolute flat deck and a tiring english attack. He was found out by the aussies and there are obvious chinks in his armour. Rohit sharma is simply not test material, lacks the temparent. Call me crazy but id like to see shikhar dhawan at number 6 or maybe get shreyas iyer in. Dhawan just adds to the variety in the top order which is full of right handers. Shami is injury prone and i have no confidence in Ishant. Maybe can work on Aaron and get him back to the side? But that guy is injury prone too. Whatever happened to shardul thakur and Ishwar pandey.

  • Sriram on April 4, 2017, 10:40 GMT

    Agreed with Sanjay on many counts. Aus were the toughest opponent and they tested India all through the series. And then to come out on top with 2-1 (ifs and buts for 3-1) was icing on cake. England was to some extent a disappointment especially after what Swann and Monty did to our legends. The biggest gain certainly was the emergence of a new Jadeja and Umesh, but questions will keep arising until they do an Indian summer overseas or at least 50% of what they achieved this season. We are a nation obsessed with overseas win unlike many other nations so expectations can only grow from here. What happens come 2018 SA series is anybody's guess but a prolonged gap between this series and the next one can deter the progress made. The likes of Vijay, Pujara or even Shami will have to be content playing IPL, domestic cricket and still have to be in best shape come SA series, that is a huge challenge. Here's hoping there is light and the end of the tunnel.

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