IND vs ENG Test series: Dravid and McCullum comparison

Shortly after India’s batting line-up combusted against a debutant spinner in Hyderabad, head coach Rahul Dravid spoke about the shots that would have worked on pitches like this on Day 4. “I think using your feet to the left-hand spinner with these kinds of conditions is fraught with risk, you probably have to play a little bit more square the wicket. Having said that, that is a high risk shot as well,” Dravid said. One risky shot to be avoided and another risky shot to be played?

It’s this kind of psychological-dawdle that has perhaps been a factor in Indian batting’s iffy approach during the first Test. Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma allow their batsmen to formulate their own style and interestingly it is exactly what England coach Brendon McCullum advocates. But Bazball stands with the mental preparation for the aggressive brand of cricket and the hours spent honing the required skill-sets in walking that risky path. Clarity, courage and skill; Indians often forget at least a couple of those traits in tough conditions in recent times.

Shortly after Dravid vacated the seat in the media room, England skipper Ben Stokes arrived with Ollie Pope. It was a study in contrast. On the way to 196, Pope revealed on this surface, he believed the reverse-sweep was as safe as a defensive shot. But there was something more striking. “We practise those shots enough and if you get out for none playing a reverse sweep you’re not going to get a load of chat in the changing room about that. You can go and commit to it,” he would say.

That committing was absent in the Indian approach. In the second innings, Yashasvi Jaiswal went down the track but turned coy after not finding the ball in his area. Shubman Gill was worse, tamely guiding a ball straight to silly point as if he were giving catching practice. Even Shreyas Iyer, usually so proactive against spin, had a weak flail at a ball leaving him and to none’s surprise, it nestled in the slips. Axar Patel’s was a soft dismissal, casually patting a ball straight to the bowler. And on it went.

Rohit is a kind of a captain who likes to lead by example and believes that this belief would filter down to his team. Even during last year’s ODI World Cup, it came down to Rohit’s pre-tournament talk to his team-mates about how he was going to adopt an attacking approach. They followed him. In the second innings, he did try to set the agenda; playing reverse sweeps and reverse laps. But such is his stature that he doesn’t always need to set the agenda himself; he can help frame a committed approach for his younger players and guide them, along with Dravid, on the ways to go about it. Like how Stokes and McCullum do. It’s not just a one-time philosophical talk about self-expression as batsmen but they actively created conditions in UAE ahead of this series, spending hours honing their skills in identifying shots to play. It might not come off again in the second Test, but that’s beside the point; they had a carefully cultivated plan and clarity, which is lacking in India. If it takes an end of Test to come up with ‘going down the track is not wise, but playing square is also risky’, it can’t help.

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IND vs ENG: Rohit Sharma's captaincy put under scanner Such is Rohit’s stature that he doesn’t always need to set the agenda himself; he can help frame a committed approach for his younger players and guide them, along with Dravid, on the ways to go about it. (PTI Photo/Shailendra Bhojak)

It says much about the Bazball effect that a batsman such as Pope has had a rebirth of sorts under the new management. The first thing that McCullum did after taking over as coach was to ring Pope. “I was down in Cornwall when I got a call from Baz (McCullum). He said, ‘you’re going to be in the squad and you’re going to bat three as well’ Whatever you call it, the red-ball reset or whatever, I’m loving every minute of it. This is the first time I’ve felt like I can be a No 3 in red-ball cricket,” Pope has said.

And that’s how Pope came into the Bazball Universe. McCullum and Stokes have worked the charm on veterans like Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root as well. “I’ve gone back to young Jonny, where you’re just watching the ball and seeing the ball.” Sample this from Root: “The Yorkshireman inside me is still saying ‘dig in, play straight and get behind it’. Then there’s the captain on my shoulder saying ‘be a rock star’.

“Doubt kills more dreams than failure,” McCullum told Forbes magazine recently. “I genuinely believe that even if you fail, you’ll learn something from it. So you progress, you get better. It’s okay to fail, for me it’s not okay to not have a go at something, it’s not okay to leave your talent unflourished because you’re scared to do something. The key from a leadership point of view is that when failure does arise, I’d still be there to pick them up, I’d still be there to encourage them to have a go next time,” McCullum said of his coaching philosophy. Now with England as a head coach, he has a similar thinking captain in Stokes, he is leading their charge from the dressing room.

Against an attacking team like England, opposition teams’ response has been to go on the defensive. Even India erred in the same aspect, particularly with the bat in the second innings, where they let an inexperienced set of spinners to dictate their pace. Having landed a bloody blow straight up, India has a daunting task ahead. And at Vizag in the second Test, they have to be a lot more aggressive in the absence of Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja and KL Rahul. Their route is fraught with risk. Whether they embrace it or not lies the question.

By 111 Tech

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