Rahul Dravid’s debut Test as the India head coach was 15 months and 13 Tests ago. Yet, he was quick to reference that game in Kanpur against New Zealand as an example of how the World Test Championship has played a role in pushing teams to play on tough, result-oriented pitches at home. India were one wicket away from winning that Test before the last-wicket pair of Ajaz Patel and Rachin Ravindra denied them the points that would have guaranteed their qualification to the Test Championship final by now.
Instead, India are seeking another win in this week’s Ahmedabad Test against Australia to go through. Before the series, Rohit Sharma’s side needed three victories to qualify for the summit clash at The Oval in June and while they pocketed wins in Nagpur and Delhi on turning tracks, they ended up tripping on the very spin trap they’d laid out for the visitors in Indore. The India head coach said the nature of the competition necessitated those tracks, even if it brought risks for his own side.
“I don’t know, it could be one of the reasons, because yes, there is a huge premium on results,” Dravid said on Tuesday (March 7). “You draw a game like Kanpur against New Zealand where you take nine wickets in the second innings, you draw that game and that sets you back, in a home game. So yeah, I certainly think that there’s tough competition all round. Every team is getting results at home or are putting in really good performances at home, so there is a premium on results. Whether it’s home or away, there’s certainly a definite premium on getting wins ahead of draws in this competition. You get four points for a draw and you get 12 for a win, so there is a premium on that, there’s no question about it.”
The challenging nature of the pitches have made life particularly hard on the batters, with those in India’s ranks no exception to this test. In fact, in the ongoing Border Gavaskar series, Rohit’s 120 in Nagpur remains the only hundred scored by either set of batters. Dravid said it was imperative to be realistic about evaluating batters with centuries and big averages no longer forthcoming.
“It’s really about being realistic about what is a good performance on some of the challenging wickets we are playing on, not only here,” he said. “If you look at the last three-four years, all over the world, I think wickets have gotten a lot more challenging. So you have to be realistic about what the benchmarks are now, what the standards are. Just understanding that in these kinds of games, just one good performance can change the game. We saw that with Rohit’s performance, we’ve seen that many times over here.
“It’s just being realistic in our assessment of our batsmen, their averages and their numbers and don’t really look so much into it. Just backing our batsmen to understand that these are challenging conditions and they’re the same for both sides. And for them to be able to use it as a challenge and an opportunity to do something special. It might not necessarily be about scoring big double hundreds, but you know there might be scores of 50-60 or scores of 60-70 somewhere might be really, really good scores in some conditions.
“It’s been pretty challenging conditions for batsmen, you know and not only [against] spin. In the short period that I’ve been a coach, I’ve seen quite challenging conditions for batsmen. I think data and stats proves to us over the last four or five years that it’s been some of the most difficult conditions to bat, all over the world, not only in India. I think batting has been tough.”
Among those who’ve had to confront such wickets has been KS Bharat, who has a best score of 23* after his first three Tests. Dravid though said he had no concerns about the gloveman’s batting and even praised his efforts behind the stumps. “I think he [Bharat] has kept beautifully for us,” Dravid said. “Even though it’s not a big contribution he got 17 in the first innings [in Indore], got a nice contribution in the last Test match in Delhi, he played nicely and positively.
“So yeah, you need a little bit of luck sometimes in these situations, and he’s probably not had that, but no, I think he’s shaping up really well, he’s been playing really well. He’s keeping really nicely for us which is really important as well. I think you’ve just got to put, sometimes, the batting performances in perspective a little bit, and be a little bit understanding of it.”
Meanwhile, India’s head coach hinted that there might not be a knee jerk reaction to the defeat in Indore by bolstering the batting in Ahmedabad. Such a change can be enforced by replacing one of the fast bowlers with a batter but Dravid saw merit in what the fast bowlers brought to the table in these conditions. Mohammed Shami has seven wickets in the series. Umesh Yadav engineered an Australia collapse in Indore with a three-wicket burst while Mohammed Siraj struck with his first ball of the series and also softened up David Warner with a barrage of short balls.
“We just have to meet every condition separately,” Dravid said. “These conditions might be very different to Indore last week, so I think everything’s on the table. We try to put together what we think is our best side and gives us the best chance to get 20 wickets and the most balanced side.
“We’ve seen also at times that [the fast bowlers] haven’t bowled a lot, but the kind of impact even a Siraj can have, picking up that early wicket in Nagpur, Umesh’s spell the other day to pick up three wickets. So even though sometimes you may feel the bowlers are not bowling a lot, just having that balance and that ability at times to go back to a more balanced attack is really important.
“The fact that when we are able to play three spinners we bat all the way up to 9, with Axar [Patel] or [R] Ashwin batting at 9 for us depending on left-right, it’s a pretty good depth we’ve got on the batting side of things. We have to weigh everything, weigh all the options and then decide.”