India end the series 4-1 losers, but as Ben Jones writes, the nature of their play today gives them a blueprint for going forward.
So, 4-1 it is. England take the series by a margin more emphatic than it deserves to be in truth, but that’s by the by. England were better. England won.
But the result of the series was decided before this match saw a ball bowled. For England, this Test was a look back – for India, it was looking forward. Rishabh Pant and KL Rahul put on a partnership today which lays the groundwork for how India need to play. They are an attacking side – so attack.
Pant is an outrageous talent. It’s long been said among England fans that the ball makes a different sound when it comes off Jos Buttler’s bat – Pant falls into the same category. The quality of his ball-striking is astonishing, and at The Oval today he put it to superb use.
His century included 36% attacking shots; only one of the last 21 Test centuries – by any player – have included a higher percentage. This was from a man who was supposed to be saving the game. Batting like that could save Test cricket, let alone just the one Test.
The diminutive No.7 hit four sixes in his innings today, the most in any Test century to since Hardik Pandya’s against Sri Lanka, 12 months ago. This crop of Indian players, born largely in the mid 1990’s, stands out even amongst a cricketing landscape that is dominated by white ball talent as one full of flair and ability.
Rahul’s innings was far more classical, but no less aggressive. Rahul played 24% attacking shots in this Test, the most he’s played across the series in any match. He made a century in his first innings in England this summer, and in his last. Much of what went in between was not quite as enjoyable for the Indian opener, but in those two innings he showcased the kind of skills that can score runs anywhere in the world, and it was built around aggression.
This is a generation largely not blessed with the patient endeavour of that golden era, of Dravid and Tendulkar and Ganguly, but one blessed with outrageously strong attacking abilities. Embracing that, in the right way, will be key.
Because they haven’t been. In their two big away series this year, they have delivered their least attacking batting performances in recent memory. Sure, the quality of the opposition has been higher, but at the moment when India were hoping to flourish, they wilted.
This is an Indian team on the way up. This is an Indian side that could achieve great things. Never has a side arrived in England, lost 4-1, and arguably left with its reputation enhanced.
Their away travails are not over for this year. A brief home intermission will let them gather their thoughts, but the challenge of Australia awaits. A team weakened by bans and chaotic selection awaits them, and from where we stand right now you can’t think of a better opportunity for India to win in Australia. Yet we said that about this tour, and the South African one before it. India can’t blame the quality of their players, because they have the best players in the world – they need to get their strategy right. For India, it might be that a little more attacking goes quite a long way.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.