West Indies Test series | India's winning streak continues as Jaiswal, Ashwin, Siraj shine
Like they had in 2016 when only 22 overs of play was possible in the entire game, the elements again had the final say in the second Test in Port of Spain, which ended in an unfulfilling stalemate on Monday.
Not a single ball was bowled on the last day of the two-Test series, thwarting India’s bid for full points in the World Test Championship; the 1-0 score line, however, extended their run of series victories in the Caribbean to 17 years.
Had even 75 of the potential 90 overs played out on Monday at the Queen’s Park Oval, India would have fancied their chances of wrapping things up.
After all, despite the slowness of the surface, they possessed bankable spin options in R Ashwin, fresh off his 12-wicket haul in the first Test, and Ravindra Jadeja, still surprisingly undervalued but deadly dangerous when on a roll.
His heroics with bat and ball made Ashwin the most obvious influencer of the series. Indeed, had there been a Player of the Series award, the off-spinner would have walked away with it for 56 runs (average 56) and 15 wickets (average 15).
That should come as no surprise to those who have followed the 36-year-old’s career even cursorily. In his previous four Tests in the Caribbean in 2016, he had taken 17 wickets and struck two centuries; even if Ashwin doesn’t deem that as a compliment, his all-round brilliance has almost come to be taken for granted.
Alongside the spin twins, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli fired salvos for the old guard with stylish centuries, Kohli’s 29th ton being his first overseas since 2018.
But what would have gladdened the team management and the larger think-tank is the consummate ease with which Yashasvi Jaiswal slotted into international cricket.
The left-hander, who plays for Mumbai in domestic cricket and has established himself at Rajasthan Royals, earned his spurs primarily on the back of a stellar run in IPL 2023.
Shubman Gill’s desire to bat at No. 3 meant Jaiswal got the opportunity open alongside his seasoned skipper, and the young lad made the most of it by stacking up 266 runs at an average of 88.66.
Those are astronomical numbers in a two-match series, but there is more to take away than a towering 171 and another half-century in three innings.
Jaiswal takes charge
The 21-year-old looked at home in the cauldron that Test cricket is, though he will be the first to admit that there was little menace in the West Indian pace attack, further defanged by a slow, dry, crumbling surface during the first Test in Roseau.
But you can only play with the cards you are dealt; Jaiswal had no say in who he would be up against. Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph, Jason Holder and Shannon Gabriel may not be limb-threatening but they have been around a long time, and they did at times ask probing questions.
To his credit, Jaiswal had all the answers; the nerves he must inevitably have felt were well concealed, there was a calmness to his approach that was reassuring and Jaiswal showcased his hunger and fire repeatedly. These are encouraging signs from someone so young and so early into his global career.
As he is savouring the heady success, Jaiswal would do well to hit the pause button and reflect, if only briefly, on how spectacularly his Mumbai teammate Prithvi Shaw’s career went off the rails after a hundred on debut in the Rajkot Test against West Indies in 2018.
There is little to indicate at the moment that Jaiswal is prone to self-destruction like Shaw was – and one really hopes that is a thing of the past; he has revealed maturity beyond his age on various other platforms and there is no reason to suspect he won’t be able to replicate it on the biggest of all stages.
A host of more demanding challenges lie in wait, among them a tour of South Africa later this year and a home showdown against England in early 2024. Those two series will provide a more realistic appraisal of the Jaiswal mettle.
If Jaiswal is what one might call the find of the tour, the other massive plus to emerge from the last fortnight is confirmation of Mohammed Siraj’s rise and his ability to shoulder a pace attack if the need should arise. Since his debut in Australia at the start of 2021, Siraj has bowled alongside at least one of Jasprit Bumrah or Mohammed Shami.
Siraj leads the way
In their absence, and with a greenhorn bunch of colleagues – Jaydev Unadkat, Mukesh Kumar, Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur – India looked to Siraj to lead the way and he did so in stunning style in the first innings of the second Test with career-best figures of five for 60.
Those wickets didn’t come easily on an absolute flat deck with no pace or bounce to work with. But Siraj has grown beyond exponentially in the last two and a half years, using the scrambled-seam delivery as his most destructive weapon.
Bringing his versatility into play, he fired out West Indies with the second new ball after having done all the hard work with the first new cherry. Embracing a patience that would have done Job proud, the Hyderabadi bowled long spells with sustained hostility, and it was pleasing to hear him acknowledge the role of physical conditioning coach Soham Desai in ensuring peak fitness.
Mukesh, a few months shy of 30, is Siraj’s senior only in age. His selection to the Test team wasn’t contentious because he has a volume of excellent work in domestic cricket to fall back on, and while his debut in Port of Spain might seem ordinary – match figures of two for 53 from 23 overs – he caught the eye with his accuracy and persistence.
To judge him solely by wickets on a placid deck will be harsh and while Mukesh won’t ever be expected to fire out opponents, he is a quick and willing learner who shuns short-cuts and is a solid investment for the mid-term future.
Ajinkya Rahane’s twin failures didn’t matter in the collective scheme of things, but it could adversely affect his Test future, especially given the possibility of a new coaching group taking charge after the World Cup.
But that’s for a later stage. For now, all hail the jazzy Jaiswal and the snappy Siraj.