A Twenty20 approach to Tests

The danger signs of India's obsession with shorter cricket are flashing.

Gautam Gambhir plans to start a clinic for running between the wickets.

That India’s approach to Test cricket has started borrowing heavily from the slapdash ways of Twenty20 is glaringly obvious.  A look at some of the plays from the third Test at Eden Gardens reflects as much.  It was thought that only the good will be brought over from the shorter formats into the longest one; viz. sharper fielding, better running between wickets, the ability to impress oneself on the moment – all qualities that would add to a player’s skills.

Poor running

One look at Gautam Gambhir rubbishes that assumption. In the first innings at Kolkata, the southpaw ran out Virender Sehwag by failing to respond to what would have been an easy third. Sehwag had to backtrack and failed miserably to make it home. In the second innings – this time after Sehwag’s dismissal had dried up the runs – Gambhir made Cheteshwar Pujara, the in-form batsman, rush out in response to an impossible single. Rarely, if ever, are such dab-and-scamper measures warranted in Test cricket. Pujara’s dive was beaten to safety by Ian Bell’s rocket-like throw from mid wicket, and with India batting for time and a sizable lead, this was a dismissal they could ill afford.

Horrible shot selection

Pujara’s fall placed Gambhir in more bother, and when he tried to hit his way out of trouble – another line of action seldom recommended in the classical format – the result was an unpardonable slash off Steve Finn that was pouched by the wicket-keeper.  The impropriety of that shot was matched only by the team’s captain. Dhoni had battled to a half-century in the first innings. In the second he was truly culpable of self-inflicted harm, fishing lazily outside off to James Anderson and edging to slip for a duck – this when a skipper’s knock was the need of the hour.

End of the road

Yuvraj Singh has always been a man in a hurry, a quality quite suited to formats in which he is a raging success. In Test matches, however, his preference for haste often results in foolish dismissals.  In the first innings at Eden Gardens, Yuvraj was coasting on 32 when a brain-freeze took over him. He stood leaden-footed at the crease to Graeme Swann, punching lazily in the air for Alastair Cook to accept a diving catch at cover. Again, in the second innings, it was the propensity towards shot making that cost him his wicket. Anderson speared one in, and Yuvraj was caught on the back foot and undone by low bounce: both factors that could have been corrected were solid defence – and not attractive strokeplay – the original intent.

Too many variations spoil the broth

The folly cost Yuvraj his Test spot, possibly permanently. And the man everyone wants to replace him with at No.6 is going through some problems of his own. Of late, off-spinner R. Ashwin has been batting like a purists’ delight. He was closing in on a second Test hundred at Kolkata before running out of partners. But it’s his bowling mojo that appears to have deserted him. The Chennai lad is averaging over 52 for each of his 11 wickets in the series, and has been responsible for bowling long ineffective spells. One reason might be the kind of variety Ashwin feels compelled to include in each over, despite the pitch offering some decent assistance with turn and bounce.  This appears to be another direct influence of Twenty20 cricket.

Sound advice

India’s former left-arm spinning ace Maninder Singh observed as much in a National daily. “Why be obsessed with variations and not stick to the basics when the wicket has so much in it?  In trying too many things, he ended up bowling rubbish."

“Earlier, Ashwin was making them drive. That’s how he dismissed Alastair Cook. But in Mumbai, he was bowling a leg-stump length to Cook. How was he ever going to induce a mistake? Then, he was bowling short of good length. When you do that you  don’t get bite off the surface.  I wonder, if the coach or the captain had a word with the bowlers. And what is Duncan Fletcher doing? Is he getting paid to sit on his haunches and stay quiet?"

India’s coaching problem: Now that is something you cannot blame on the shorter formats.