India get in front with straight bat and straight balls

Notes from day three of the fourth Test at Rajkot

India get in front with straight bat and straight balls
Dhruv Jurel's boundaries down the ground were a notable aspect of his batting / Picture Credit - BCCI TV

Dhruv Jurel was told to play straight as a kid, and that man took it seriously. That was handy on a wicket where the ball was sometimes keeping low. Kuldeep continued to help him out as well, as England just looked tired and out of ideas.

But the good news for the visiting team was that the wicket seemingly had the cracks glued back together. Sadly for them, Ashwin didn’t care. In fact, he didn’t even get the ball to spin. He didn’t worry about cracks either. He just turned into the second innings new ball destroyer and rocked England.

Crawley came back hard and suddenly England were in it again. Approaching tea, they had lost three wickets and were scoring well on a wicket that still wasn’t rolling along the ground. That did happen to Stokes again, although as Kuldeep and Crawley found out, playing back to even one ball can be killer here.

England’s last session was pretty horrible. Bairstow pushed hard first ball, Foakes decided not to score and even though 192 seemed like a decent target, when your two opening bowlers deliver just a ton of full tosses and half volleys, there is little you can do. If you want to know how a team can go from clear favourites to losing a match, watch the last two hours again. 

But just a moment for this match. At lunch on day one, England could not win. At drinks in the last session on day two, India could not win. At stumps on day three, England cannot win. That is quite the wild ride.

Imagine trying to predict what will happen tomorrow. Either the cracks would open up further and snakes filled with hand grenades will come out, or India go on a lovely stroll while singing, "Oh what a lovely day for a tea party."

The pitch (JK)

This pitch has definitely been more challenging for the batters as compared to the first three matches. You can see a lot of cracks. But we didn't actually see as many balls play up as we did in the first couple of days. It's the middle part of the day which is often being a tricky time for the batters.

Picture Credit - JioCinema

Both these sessions were against the new ball, but the wicket reacted differently. There has been no clear path that this pitch has followed throughout the match. India actually bowled better in the second session without hitting any cracks, so the difference in talent levels between the Indian and English spinners was also evident. The new ball did not do as much in the first session, and the England spinners seemed to be a bit tired. In the last session, they were unable to land the ball properly.

R Ashwin - the second innings new-ball destroyer (SAK)

A lot of people asked if age was catching up with Ashwin , and we did not really see any massive signs. Perhaps the ball was not coming out of his hand as well as it could have, although he bowled well in the last innings of the third Test.

He is obviously a bigger threat for the left-handers in the first 20 overs, but the right-handers are not doing that much better either.

When he is taking the new ball in the second innings, it tends to bring most of his skills into play. He can still skid the ball through, but he gets a little more inconsistent bounce. Plus, he also get sideways spin.

Ashwin might go down as one of the truly great new ball bowlers among the spinners. The thing worth noting here is that there have been several chances throughout the series where India could have given him the new ball or opened the bowling with him, but they did not. I also think Rohit Sharma has overbowled his seam bowlers with the new ball, especially against Crawley.

This graphic was shown around the 25-30 overs mark. So Kuldeep got way more turn, and Jadeja's slight increase is probably down to hitting the cracks. But Ashwin actually turned it less, which was partly because he bowled with the new ball.

Picture Credit - JioCinema

There is always a chance of Ashwin getting Duckett because he is trying to protect his outside edge when he is playing the forward defense.

Ashwin also stops him from scoring quickly. India might want to bring the ace off-spinner on early again at Dharamsala, though that may be a slightly more seam-friendly pitch.

Kuldeep Yadav's Test career - an overview (SAK)

A lot of Indian fans were upset that Kuldeep Yadav was underbowled in the first innings, which tends to happen in a five-man attack. But if you look at Kuldeep's overall career, he usually bowls around 15-16 overs per innings. The plan seems to be to use him when a top-order batter is unable to pick him, or if the game is going flat and they need to change it up. But he's also bowling with two other world-class spinners, so he may not always be able to bowl as much.

He has had a few games where he went for over four runs per over. However, in the last couple of games he has proven that he can keep it down. We've not seen this from him before, so it would be interesting to see if something has changed. It's worth keeping an eye on.

I usually look at cumulative averages after five matches, because there is often a big spike or dip. Observe how flat he has managed to keep his overall average after 11 matches, which is amazing for a player that has been in and out of the side.

It is remarkable that he has managed to keep a great record despite going through a form slump. But part of that is because he is used quite sparingly by the Indian team, so he does not always have to play when he is out of form. It will be interesting to see him operate in Australia and West Indies, where wrist-spin can be a real threat. He is also a much more rounded and smarter bowler at this stage in his career.

In the matches he has played, he has a slightly better average than the Indian spinners and he is significantly better than the opposition spinners. We know that he has been a relatively low-usage option, and he has not quite been a first-choice bowler for India in the format.

Zak Crawley's good batting form (JK)

Zak Crawley got out playing off the backfoot, and he was looking at the pitch like it kept a little bit low. India made a smart move by opening the covers and making him play against the spin.

Because of how he played in the first three Tests, I thought they should have used more spin early on with Ashwin and Jadeja around. Crawley has been able to get England off to great starts because he's able to whack the ball everywhere against pace. I think he is a terrible player of spin when he sweeps and comes down the wicket. But in this Test, he turned balls that weren't half volleys into half volleys because of his ability to stay in the crease and reach balls.

Zak Crawley was averaging 28.66 in Tests before his hundred at Old Trafford in the Ashes. This is the best we have seen him bat, and his overall average is still just above 32.

He still does not work through the gears of the innings that well. When you see a pitch in his favour, it's actually hard to get him out. But he has struggled to kick on after getting starts, and there have also been streaks of low scores.

Pope’s regression (JK)

Ollie Pope played 59 shots in the second innings at Hyderabad. Since then, he's gotten out six times to 33 false shots. But not all false shots are the same. False shots early on tend to be worse. So if the batter makes a mistake then, chances are that they would get out more often. We talked about the luck at the time, but he made that luck by really putting off the Indian bowlers.

But this is also normal regression. Today, Ashwin nutmegged him. He was in such a bad position on what was a straight ball that hit the centre of the wicket.

Dhruv Jurel straight bats India out of trouble (SAK)

Dhruv Jurel played some really good shots down the ground, especially when he was looking for boundaries. England had three fielders covering the boundary in that zone. He played proper cricket shots. While he was batting, it felt like even if he got out, it would be because of bad execution.

Picture Credit - BCCI TV

Jurel trusted Kuldeep and knocked the ball around while batting with him. He scored quickly while batting with Deep and Siraj, without particularly going nuts.

In both the innings, he seemed to knows exactly what to do. Just good, clever cricket from him.