CHENNAI: Apart from burying India’s hopes of building a solid foreign CV, the 1-3 series loss that England doled out at the Rose Bowl has also opened up another big can of worms. Yes, there were abject batting failures, various instances of losing direction in clutch situations, and insipid spells of bowling. But those individual lapses — their alarming frequency notwithstanding — has again brought one particular aspect of the team under the microscope: India’s playing XI.
Even as Hardik Pandya walked back to the pavilion on Sunday for a seven-ball blob — two deliveries more than his first-innings stay, actually — 107 balls before their eventual demise, one thought must have roiled around in many an India fan’s mind: “Do we really need an extra all-rounder? Since one man has been scoring all the runs, wouldn’t an extra batsman make more sense?”. “From the way he’s been performing, I’d say that (Ravichandran) Ashwin is a better allrounder than him,” remarked former India all-rounder Madan Lal.
“We have this problem of attaching way too much of importance to shorter-format form. We think the same can be replicated in Tests. Virat (Kohli) has given him so much of leeway by persisting with him, but in 11 Tests, he has only 17 wickets. And five of those came in one spell.” “Even with the bat, he’s not made an impact. I feel that India missed a trick by not fielding say, Karun Nair, or some other specialist batsman instead of an allrounder who despite his potential has not delivered.” Lal’s observation isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction to Pandya’s performance blip in Southampton.
The 24-year-old’s Test career has been peppered with many such duds, ones that have the tendency of cropping up on foreign shores. Take away the run-a-ball 52 he scored in Nottingham — which came under no pressure as a Kohli ton had already buried England under a pile of runs — and Pandya’s batting statistics read: 7 innings, 112 runs, average of 16. His overall foreign numbers (including South Africa) may still look a tad redeemable (283 runs in 7 Tests at an average of 21.76). but sans two massive anomalies — his 93 in Cape Town and the aforementioned Trent Bridge fifty — those numbers don’t make for great reading: 12 innings, 138 runs, average of 11.5.
It would be a bit unfair to expect Pandya to be rolling around in wickets considering his role: a support bowler meant to hold one end down to keep India’s strike force fresh for long spells. But the right-arm pacer and his inconsistent lengths have seen him leak runs consistently; a streak appended by his 8-0-51-1 in the first innings of the Southampton Test.
Heck, even his maiden fifer saw his errors being converted into an economy of 4.66. Pandya has been India’s most expensive bowler on this tour — conceded at 3.84 in his 64.1 overs — barring Kuldeep Yadav (who sent down only 9 overs in one essay), and his career economy of 3.38 (which jumps to 3.55 in foreign tours) too doesn’t inspire. Despite this, though, former India batsman and coach Anshuman Gaekwad feels that sacrificing an all-rounder for a specialist batsman may not be the most prudent solution.
“To win on foreign shores, teams have to go the Australian way. Batsmen should deliver runs, and bowlers wickets. If you go in with only four specialist bowlers, one is bound to have a bad day. And if three are left to shoulder that burden, then you may risk potential burnouts.”