Not enough to compete, India must complete games - Ravi Shastri
The series is lost but Ravi Shastri is not "throwing the towel in" yet, and neither are the Indian team. Shastri has singled out his batsmen for not being as mentally strong as they could have been, giving away the advantage to England in situations they should have capitalised on, but despite England holding a series-winning 3-1 lead with only the fifth Test to play, India's coach believes his team will compete hard in the match at the Oval that starts on Friday, and rectify mistakes made in the first four Tests.
The five-Test series got off to an exhilarating start after England held their nerve on the fifth morning at Edgbaston to win by 31 runs. England then obliterated India at Lord's in a matter of a few sessions. India bounced back collectively to hurt England at Trent Bridge and keep the series alive.
In Southampton India had England reeling at 86 for 6 on day one. Still, stunningly, it was India who were left bruised in the end as Sam Curran played another belligerent knock to wrest back control, just as he had done at Edgbaston in the second innings when England were stuttering at 87 for 7. India's five-man bowling attack failed to stop Curran both times, and paid the price.
On the third day, England were in trouble once again and lost quick wickets either side of the lunch break to slip to 92 for 4, but their lower order resisted admirably and hit back to raise a big lead on a worn pitch. India had no answer to Moeen Ali, who kept pitching the ball in the footmarks and getting it to turn and bounce sharply. It was something India's lead spinner R Ashwin failed to do, which Shastri said was the difference between the sides.
But Shastri was still not giving up. "The fact of the matter is that you had a chance," Shastri said after India's training on Wednesday. "The scoreline says 3-1 which means India have lost the series. What the scoreline doesn't say is India could have been 3-1 or 2-2. And my team knows it. They would have hurt, and rightly so, after the last game. But this is a team that will not throw in the towel. It will compete. It will come out there to compete and not look to be on the first flight home, rest assured."
After losing the series in Southampton, India captain Virat Kohli was blunt in his appraisal, saying his team could not be satisfied just with competing, and had to learn how to cross the line. Shastri reiterated that sentiment. "We have run teams close overseas, we have competed. But now it is not about just competing. We have got to complete games from here. And the endeavour is to learn, understand where you made the mistakes, take it head on and try and correct."
Shastri said India were on top and looking to take a sizeable lead when Cheteshwar Pujara played a "khadoos (a Mumbai cricket term loosely equivalent to bloody-minded)" innings to notch his first century of this tour. But the rest of the batting did not show the same resolve. "It is being aware of being in a good position and then capitalising and not doing something silly to open the door for the opposition. I thought at 180 for 4 there was a definite chance of a 75-80 run lead, and that would have been crucial. So that hurts."
Shastri felt the Southampton defeat would hurt more than the one at Edgbaston because India were in charge of the fourth Test at different points. "At Edgbaston, it could have gone either way. We had our share of luck as well because at one time England were in the driver's seat. We managed to come back. We were chasing the game there all the time. But here, this would hurt more because you were ahead of them. And there was a stage you could have been really ahead of game after the job the bowlers did on day one."
At the start of this series, Shastri had told ESPNcricinfo that Kohli's team had the "potential" to be one of the best travelling sides. He said he was making that statement based on India's spirited performance in the 2-1 series defeat this January in South Africa, where India won the final Test in Johannesburg and were in contention in the first two Tests too, in Cape Town and Centurion.
Not everyone is convinced India are improving as a travelling unit overseas though. Speaking to India TV, former India opener Virender Sehwag said India had learned the art of winning overseas under Sourav Ganguly. Back then, India were a stronger batting unit with bowlers who couldn't consistently take 20 wickets, and Sehwag felt it was the other way round now, with India having a strong bowling unit but a weaker batting group. "Best travelling teams are made by performances on the ground and not by sitting in the dressing rooms and talking about it. One can talk whatever they want to talk about but unless the bat does the talking, they can never become the best travelling team," Sehwag said.
Shastri still maintained India could win overseas. He pointed out that India had won three series and nine Tests overseas since 2015. Incidentally, Anil Kumble was India's coach for one of those series, against West Indies in 2016, which India won 2-0. Shastri was in his first stint with the team during the 2-1 win on the 2015 tour of Sri Lanka. In Shastri's second stint, India have won one series overseas, in Sri Lanka (2017), and five Tests.
"If you look at the last three years, we won nine matches overseas and three series. I can't see any other Indian team in the last 15-20 years who had that kind of run in such a short period and you have some great players in those teams." Shastri said. "So the promise is there. It is just [about] getting tougher mentally. You have got to hurt when you lose such matches, but that is when you look within and come out with the right kind of answers to combat such situations again and get past the finishing line. One day you will, as long as you believe."