3rd Test, Day 3
This Australian team has done something which four other nations could not: forced Team India to rethink strategy. Consequently, India were compelled into a huge policy shift following the humiliating first Test loss; never mind that the move actually worked to shore up the team’s prospects.
For a while now skipper Virat Kohli has stridently followed an aggressive five-bowler strategy. It brought him tremendous success over West Indies, New Zealand, England and Bangladesh. It portrayed the team in an aggressive mode and the message it sent out to the opponents was: Watch out! We are out to bowl you over.
The five-bowler strategy was aggressive in intent because it sought to blow away 20 wickets in each Test. The skipper always had a bowler fresh enough to have a go at the batsmen and it came as no surprise that opponents could not regroup and gradually crumbled to defeat in series after series.
But the Aussies were a different kettle of fish if only because they came to India better prepared to handle the home team’s various threats. The Aussies had an extended camp in Dubai in conditions that replicated India’s spin-friendly environment. The batsmen got conditioned into playing quality spin bowling while the spinners strived to hit the right line and speed at which they could be a maximum threat.
The resounding first Test win in Pune vindicated the planning and preparation. It, in fact, showed the Aussie batsmen to be more adept than the home players at handling spin!
This worried the Indians and they responded by sacrificing a bowler to strengthen the batting at Bengaluru. Triple centurion Karun Nair was brought in for Jayant Yadav. While the Aussies could probably indulge in a bit of back-patting for changing the Indian leadership’s thought process and plans, there is something to be said for the re-think of strategy.
The first major takeaway was the acknowledgement that pitches at the fag end of a long and hard season would not be good enough to last five days. This acceptance was crucial for it altered the workload on bowlers.
It established that most innings would be wrapped up in fewer than 100 overs. In such a scenario, the brunt of the bowling could be shared by just four bowlers, with any one of them expected to bowl an extended spell in a session. In any case none of them would be called upon to bowl more than 24 overs in a day.
In case the Australians went ultra defensive in an attempt to grind out the four-man attack, it would turn counter-productive on pitches where wear and tear could be alarming as the match progressed. For instance, while the Australian innings lasted 94.5 & 87 overs in the first Test, their stout defensive tactics in the first innings of the second Test went against them. They were bowled out in 35.4 overs on a deteriorating track in the second innings.
Of course the major worry in a four-bowler strategy is the danger of injury to one of the bowlers. That would straight away condemn one of the other three bowlers to do a holding job and thus severely limit the captain’s options. The over-bowling of the three bowlers could also debilitate their effectiveness in later Tests.
Thus sticking to a four-bowler strategy will remain a huge call for a crucial Test, especially with the series finely balanced at 1-1.