The first Test of the five-match series between India and England in Nottingham was like a suspense thriller with an anti-climax. It promised so much right through, but did not reach the desired conclusion.
The day began with India needing 157 runs for victory and England nine wickets. On paper, India had their noses ahead going into Day 5 in Nottingham. But considering the weather and England’s potent bowling attack in home conditions, all three results were possible had play happened.
Sadly, in the end, everyone was left ruing the fact that the rain gods played spoilsport. The two teams and fans kept waiting and waiting in hope, but with the weather not relenting, the umpires had no option but to call off the last day’s play in Nottingham without a ball being bowled and declare the Test a draw.
Notes from Nottingham
With the first Test ending in a draw after four hard-fought days of good old-fashioned attritional cricket, let’s take a look at three talking points from the Nottingham Test.
#1 England’s batting line-up: A one-man show
The Nottingham Test gave further proof that England’s batting is fast turning into a one-man show, even more so in the absence of Ben Stokes. And the frequency is now reaching an embarrassing level.
England captain Joe Root scored 173 runs in Nottingham – 64 in the first innings and 109 in the second. The others from the top seven for England scored 74 in the first innings and 124 in the second – a combined total of 198, which is only slightly more than what Root scored on his own across two innings.
There seems to be no end to England’s batting woes. Rory Burns gave them hope when he scored a hundred and a half-century in the Tests against New Zealand, but he was completely unsettled by India’s top-quality pacers in Nottingham.
Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence added further question marks in front of their Test careers, posing further headaches for the selectors ahead of The Ashes. One cannot see England winning this Test series against India unless their batting line-up comes up with a spectacular resurrection act.
#2 Time to look beyond Pujara, Rahane?
The time has come to ask this tough question now. Virat Kohli may keep stressing on the fact that he doesn’t care for what critics think. But the process and culture he often talks about in pre and post-match conferences cannot be used as a shield for consistent failures.
One cannot discredit Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane for their significant contributions to Indian cricket. However, after yet another no-show in Nottingham, it is only fair to say that the defiant batters don’t seem good enough to produce the results at the top level anymore.
Pujara made 4 from 14 in the first innings before getting a beauty from James Anderson and somehow survived 13 balls in the second. While some may feel Pujara has been unlucky as he has been getting unplayable deliveries, there is another theory doing the round that he is allowing the bowlers to do so with his ultra-defensive approach. Whatever the case, his methods aren’t working.
Shifting the focus to Rahane, the manner in which he ran himself out in Nottingham was very much indicative of his uncertain mindset.
The calm, composed Rahane of old wouldn’t have taken off like that irrespective of the situation. Rahane clearly felt the pressure of non-performance out in the middle. No matter how hard he tries to indicate at pressers that he is not under the pump, the on-field results say otherwise.
It will be a futile exercise to dig up Rahane and Pujara’s numbers over the last year or so. They have been flashing all over. More than stats, it is the think-tank’s non-admission of the serious problem at hand that is a bigger worry.
#3 Virat Kohli’s form: More than a temporary blip?
It would, of course, sound very harsh and premature to ask whether Virat Kohli is past his prime as a batter. It is, however, worth analysing his recent performances in an in-depth manner following his golden duck in Nottingham.
Most top cricketers are said to be at their peak during the late 20s and early 30s. (unless you answer to the name of James Anderson). Kohli was definitely on top of his game a couple of years back. But that doesn’t appear to be the case now.
Numbers don’t always lie. Since the start of 2020, Kohli is averaging 23 from nine Test matches. Four of them were played at home against England. Barring a couple of half-centuries, Kohli did little of note and ended the home series with an average of under 30. That was in stark contrast to his wonderful batting efforts in 2016, when he amassed 655 runs in five Tests at an average of over 100.
Yes, cricket is not all about numbers. So Kohli’s century-less streak heading back to November 2019 is only a part of a larger problem. But it is a concern because if Kohli is not reaching three figures, it simply means he is not getting big scores.
Coming back to his Nottingham dismissal, Kohli fishing outside the off-stump first-ball took even James Anderson by surprise, which explains his child-like reaction on scalping the Indian captain. That said, Kohli’s lapse in concentration seen in Nottingham was not a one-off. He chased a wide delivery in the WTC final as well, and has been getting out against the run of play far too often.
Has overexposure worn down Virat Kohli’s mental agility? It is a proven negative of being the cricketing sensation of India and being expected to perform all the time. The bio-bubble factor also needs to be taken into consideration here as well. While the Nottingham Test went nowhere in the end, it has provided Virat Kohli with a ‘golden’ opportunity to reflect on where his international career is heading.