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News

Rohit and India keep faith in their methods to gain record-breaking reward

They lead England 2-1 having stayed calm in the face of an early onslaught in Rajkot

It ended like so many India home Tests over the last decade. A hefty winning margin was in sight, and R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were fighting over the final wicket.
Ashwin has more Test-match-ending wickets than anyone else in history, 23, one more than Shane Warne in second place, but Jadeja won on this occasion, completing his 13th five-wicket haul as India sealed victory by a record 434 runs.
It was an entirely familiar finish, but seldom have India got to one in quite this manner. They had been 33 for 3 on the first morning, and recovered to post 445. England, in reply, had rocketed to 207 for 2 in 35 overs by stumps on day two. Later that night, Ashwin, the most experienced member of India's line-up, had left Rajkot for personal reasons, leaving them with only four bowlers for the remainder of England's innings.
From there to the accelerated finish in the dying moments of day four, when England collapsed to 122 all out, India had played some of their very best cricket. And while it was in one sense a comeback win, it didn't necessarily fit the traditional narrative of a comeback - where a team changes its style of play to counter and overcome a dominant opposition.
It was, instead, a win of persistent belief in Plan A when Plan A may not have seemed to be working in any obvious sense. It had not seemed to work in the first Test in Hyderabad, where England pulled off a remarkable come-from-behind win. It had brought India a win in Visakhapatnam, but it seemed - at least to the spectator - that the result could have been different if not for a great display of fast bowling from Jasprit Bumrah. When Plan A led India to where they were at the end of day two in Rajkot, other teams may have wondered whether it was time to try something different.
India did not. While they made micro-level tactical adjustments, like any bowling group would, their overall strategy remained much the same: hammer away on a good length, and keep the stumps in play as much as possible. They trusted in these methods, and trusted that they had too much quality in their bowling group for those methods to not bring rewards at some point.
"When you're playing Test cricket, it's not played over two days or three days. We do understand the importance of extending the game for five days," India captain Rohit Sharma said at the post-match presentation. "[England] played well, to be honest, and played some really good shots. They put us under pressure a little bit there, but look, we've got class in our squad, when it comes to bowling.
"Obviously, the message was to stay calm because when things like that happen, it's actually easy to drift away from what you want to do as a team. But I'm really proud of how we came back the next day, stuck to what we discussed, and when those things happen, it's a delight to watch."
Ben Duckett peppered the boundaries in Rajkot, hitting 23 fours and two sixes in a 151-ball 153, but India kept reminding themselves to judge themselves on whether they were bowling good balls and forcing the batters to take risks to score their runs.
"Yeah, look, they actually played shots off really good balls," Rohit said at his post-match press conference. "Even the first Test match where [Ollie] Pope got that [196], he was very much in control and played shots off some really good balls, and when the batter is doing that, obviously the plan is to keep it very simple, nice and tight, follow the plans that have been discussed.
"These guys have bowled a lot in these conditions, so they exactly know how to keep coming back into the game. Rather than getting frustrated and doing too many things, it is important that you stick to your strengths, understand where the run-scoring opportunities are, for the opposition, and then try and stop them."
India's persistence paid off, as Kuldeep Yadav bowled 12 incisive overs of wristspin on the third morning to lay the groundwork for Mohammed Siraj to burst through England's lower order with an irresistible spell of reverse-swing. Their efforts, and those of the relentless Bumrah and Jadeja, helped India claim a 126-run lead. That swelled to 556, thanks to Yashasvi Jaiswal's second double-hundred in consecutive Tests and half-centuries from Shubman Gill and Sarfaraz Khan, before India declared 50 minutes before tea on day four.
"Lot of turning points," Rohit said. "Once we won the toss... that was actually a good toss to win because we know in India how important it is to win the toss and put runs on the board. And the lead that we got was very, very crucial for us. And the way we came out and bowled after that onslaught from the English batters was important for us to stay calm. The bowlers actually showed a lot of character and not to forget we didn't have our most experienced bowler as well. But for this group to come out and get the job done in that fashion was really, really proud to watch."
The group Rohit referred to was one of the more inexperienced combinations India have used in a home Test in recent times.
Kuldeep, who made his Test debut in 2017, was playing just his 10th Test match, and Jaiswal his seventh. Sarfaraz was on debut, as was wicketkeeper Dhruv Jurel, while Rajat Patidar, at No. 4, was playing only his second Test. Gill (23 Tests) is still new to the No. 3 role that was occupied by Cheteshwar Pujara for most of the last decade.
India have been without Virat Kohli (113 Tests) and Mohammed Shami (64) all through this series, while KL Rahul (50) has featured only in one Test. Jadeja (70) missed the second Test in Visakhapatnam, and Ashwin (98) bowled only 13 overs across the two innings in Rajkot.
"Two debutants and not a lot of Test matches amongst the playing XI as well," Rohit said. "So lot of these guys are learning from the experience they're having in the middle. We got a lot to learn [from] how we played in Hyderabad, and then in Vizag when we won, obviously we knew it's not going to be an easy one for us to just come out here and win this series, we have to work really really hard, especially with a lot of our frontline players missing as well.
"A lot of credit to these young boys who have come in and shown a lot of character. Looks like they belong here, and they actually want to stay here as well. So yeah, it is quite satisfying when you win a Test match like that. We always talk about the bench strength. Today and even in Vizag, we got to see a lot of bench strength as well."

Karthik Krishnaswamy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo