From the soaring high of Lord's to the crash landing at Headingley, the past two Test matches have once again underlined the symphony of sport, or perhaps life!
India was rampant on the final day of the Lord's Test; they were all over England like a cheap suit. It was a sight that had to be witnessed live to fathom.
The sight of an Indian pace bowling unit unleashing Virat Kohli's words '51.5 overs of hell' on the opposition batsmen to lead the visitors to a famous win at the proverbial "Home of Cricket" was to capture, frame, and behold.
Nine days later, it all came crashing down for the Indians as familiar woes reared their head again.
Ah, That middle-order! Once the crown jewel of the Indian Test team, the trio of Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, and Ajinkya Rahane have proved to be the biggest disappointment for the tourists in the longest format in the past 18-20 months.
KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma stitched steady opening partnerships during the first couple of Tests. Then, in Nottingham, the duo added 97 runs, but the tri of Pujara-Kohli-Rahane could muster just 9 runs between them, and all of a sudden, the tourists went from taking a big first-innings lead to struggling to overall England's total.
Eventually, Rahul's partnerships with Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja coupled with a rare contribution by the tail helped India take a 95-run lead.
At Lord's, Rohit and Rahul went one step ahead to post the first 100+ opening stand by an Indian pair in SENA countries since Centurion 2010.
But, once again, the trio of Pujara (9), Kohli (42), and Rahane (1) couldn't cash in on the platform, and India was eventually bowled out for 391 when in reality, they should have got a lot more given the start that they had got.
In the second innings, Pujara (45 of 206) and Rahane (61 of 146) ground out 50 overs for 100 runs, and, yeah, one can argue that the partnership proved to be crucial in the context of what eventually happened on the final day, it was undeniable that both batsmen looked out of sorts and lacked confidence.
Add their woes to the lean patch that skipper Kohli is undergoing; it was clear that India could find themselves in a colossal mess in the next few Tests if the openers fail to provide them with a platform.
The biggest nightmare of Indian fans came true within the first few minutes of the Leeds Test when KL Rahul lunged forward to drive James Anderson on the up in the very first over to give a simple catch to Jos Buttler.
Things unravelled soon thereafter as Pujara, Kohli, and Rahane joined Rahul in the pavilion when the morning session ended. So one can argue, and [fair enough], what happened on the first morning was not entirely a result of the poor technique of the Indian batsman.
It was a combination of skilful swing and seam bowling under favourable conditions where the Indian batsmen kept nicking off instead of playing and missing.
Having said that, the meek capitulation of the middle-order at Leeds isn’t an isolated occurrence. Adelaide 2020, Ahmedabad 2021, World Test Championship final against New Zealand and the first couple of matches of the ongoing series have seen similar collapses from the middle order. At the heart of it is the lean patch that is the lean patch that each of them is going through concurrently.
Since 2020, Cheteshwar Pujara is averaging 27.56 [in 26 innings], Virat Kohli has managed 469 runs in 19 innings at 24.68, while Ajinkya Rahane is averaging 26.25 with a lone century among the trio.
Pujara hasn't scored a Test ton since January 2019; Kohli hasn't scored an international hundred since November 2019, while Rahane has had one good year at the Test level- 2019- since the start of 2017.
As they say, while referring to the middle-order, the engine room is the heartbeat of the batting unit. While openers lay the platform, it is up to the middle order to build the house of dreams.
The second innings of the Leeds Test offered some hope that the light to a very long dark tunnel may be in sight as Pujara scored a fluent 91 while Kohli eased to his first 50 of the series even as Rahane continued to disappoint.
Is it another false dawn? Or will we finally see the likes of Pujara, Kohli get back among runs on a more consistent basis remains to be seen in the final two Tests? And what about Rahane?
Yep! Let's talk about Rahane! Sparks of brilliance in a crisis amid prolonged periods of mediocrity have been the hallmark of the Indian vice-captain.
In his last 48 Tests, he is averaging 33.77 and barring the year 2019, where he scored 642 runs in 11 innings at 71.33, he hasn't averaged over 40 in any calendar year since the start of 2017.
Should India persist with Rahane in the next two Tests? Given his current form and prolonged phases of mediocrity in the last 4 years, they shouldn't. But it's unlikely that they will go down that route, at least for the Oval Test.
One thing is certain though if India has to break the jinx of having not won a Test series in England since the summer of 2007, the engine room- Pujara, Kohli, Rahane- will have to rise to the occasion in the next two Tests.
If they don't, it will be yet another opportunity lost for the current setup to carve out a legacy as they aim to become the first Indian team to win a Test series in Australia and England.