Live: IND Vs ENG 5th Test | Day 3 | Session 2 | Live Scores & Commentary | 2018 Series
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This has been a year of big summers. When India landed in South Africa early January, it was built up as the clash of the world’s top two Test nations. When they landed here in England, it was billed as an uphill battle against the world’s number one ranked Test side.
Let’s face it, India are box-office draw and it makes for good advertorials on television, radio and in print when they come visiting. In that respect, the two Test series have lived up to potential. South Africa only just managed to sneak past 2-1. England too had their moments on the ropes, yet recovered to take an unassailable 3-1 lead.
Make no mistake, these seven matches have sent out a good picture postcard for Test cricket. But someone is not happy, and rightly so. Since the 60-run loss in Southampton, both Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri have been at pains to deflect questions and instead harped about how the scoreline(s) doesn’t tell a true tale of how this Indian team has fought.
That’s the thing about scorelines: They aren’t meant to tell full tales. They provide a synopsis, a sneak peek at the final destination, and not the journey. That tale needs to be told by the players and those who witnessed them in action, whether sitting at home in front of television screens, or in the stands and press boxes. Ask, and they will tell you the real meaning of scorelines.
The underlying problem herein is that these questions need to be asked. They are not self-evocative answers. More importantly, they are governed by time and narrative. When Shastri comes out and questions Indian teams from the last 15-20 years that didn’t find success in short spans of time, all of the above is very conveniently forgotten. Sadly, there is no one to remind — or correct — him either.
This enforced silence of those watching — or listening — puts things in perspective for this Kohli-led Indian team. Let us take stock of what they have won so far — 2-1 in Sri Lanka in 2015, 2-0 in West Indies in 2016 and 3-0 in Sri Lanka in 2017, followed by one-off wins in South Africa and England. Those who can shout the loudest, that these nine wins are unprecedented, may dictate the current narrative but history is written silently.
And this is the underlying problem with the scoreline argument peddled by both Kohli and Shastri. Whether it is about the 2-1 in South Africa, or 3-1 (so far) in England now, history will judge this Indian team on wins and losses, nothing more. It doesn’t matter if Ganguly was one missed stumping away (Steve Waugh let off by Parthiv Patel) from winning a series on Australian soil.
This is the juncture at which Kohli and Shastri find themselves at, currently. They might keep talking about scorelines, but it will soon get old, especially if England make it 4-1. For their sake, it is imperative that the Indian team — even at the fag end of a nearly 12-week long tour — shows enough spirit and fight to win this final Test. As always, it will start with selecting the optimal playing eleven.
Word is that Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul will be retained despite their poor recent form. Ravindra Jadeja will play his first Test of the series ahead of an injured Ravichandran Ashwin, albeit strangely enough the team management is not happy to admit he is suffering fitness issues. Prithvi Shaw will have to wait for his chance, probably in the home series against West Indies.
An additional middle-order batsman is expected, but Karun Nair will continue twiddling thumbs. Instead, Hanuma Vihari will be handed a shock Test debut in place of Hardik Pandya. You can see the logic here — Vihari can bowl a few overs if need be, which is the loose term for ‘all-rounder’ nowadays. On this argument though, Nair will be forgiven if he goes and bangs his head on some wall.
Four full-time bowlers, plus Vihari, might not be enough to replicate what the Indian attack has done in three out of four Tests thus far. But England won’t mind — their top-order has suffered in this series and for once they would want ample runs.
For Alastair Cook, who will bid adieu to international cricket at the Oval, let it be said here that we won’t see his like anytime soon in Test cricket — someone who just loves to compete against the ball, and with bat in hand, is always fighting a battle at the crease irrespective of opposition and conditions. He may not have been the most pleasing batsman but there is an old world charm about Cook, one that romanticized cricket for each one of us.
This weekend, history will write about how Cook walked into the sunset. What will it write about India’s England tour?