Ranchi win epitomises current era of India's Test team with promise for the next one

Manjrekar: India won the little battles inside the big battle (1:00)

ESPNcricinfo's expert feels the gulf between the two sides was visible when it came to bowling quality (1:00)

There is dust everywhere in Ranchi, the dust of flyover construction on seemingly every arterial road. For miles, the roads are pockmarked and cratered. It's a hostile first impression if you've just arrived in the city and are prone to sneezing fits.

Two days out from the fourth India-England Test match, the pitch in Ranchi looked like a road too, but not the proverbial road of cricketing discourse. It looked, instead, like a Ranchi road. Like Purulia Road where it meets Old Hazaribagh Road.

"I don't know, I've never seen something like that before so I have got no idea," Ben Stokes said. "I don't know what could happen."

Like any other city, Ranchi begins to reveal its charms the more time you spend in it. The prettiness of latticed jaalis and faded ochre walls. The tree cover, dense where it has been allowed to flourish, giving a disquieting sense that the forest will one day close in and reclaim what belonged to it. The morning mist shrouding the fields near the stadium, some home to cricket nets, others to market stalls that will throng with activity later in the day. The fall-off-the-bone Champaran mutton in a hole-in-the-wall joint below a railway bridge.

The pitch, too, hooks you and reels you in. It gives you four utterly enthralling days of cricket.


India have played and won great Test matches before. So many of these classics have involved this current India team - though how many of its constituent parts will have to be taken away, temporarily or for good, before it becomes an entirely different team?

Where would Ranchi 2024 rank if you brought in the heavy-hitters? Where would it rank in relation to Bengaluru 2017, the gold standard for classic, post-2013 home Tests?

Who knows, and who cares. Comparisons will only draw us away from truly spending time with Ranchi 2024, looking it in the eye, and appreciating it for what it is. A classic in a genre of its own.

India were without Rishabh Pant, Mohammed Shami, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, and above all Jasprit Bumrah. India lost the toss, and on that pitch - there's a reason why we began by talking about the pitch - losing the toss was a massive, massive disadvantage. It was the kind of pitch that significantly narrowed the gap between the two spin attacks, and the kind of pitch where batting became significantly more difficult on day two than day one.

England won that golden toss, and by the end of day two were all over India. Then India put on one of their greatest ever third-day displays. Their greatest third-day display since… since, well, the previous week in Rajkot.


India won the Rajkot Test with a day-three performance for the ages, but they also won it during R Ashwin's press conference at the end of day two. Bazball had played its great trick of widening the gap between what the scorecard said - England were two down and 238 runs adrift of India's first-innings total - and how the viewer perceived the balance of play. Ashwin and India knew this Test match was still in the balance, knew that their bowlers were doing the right things, and believed that those processes would beget favourable outcomes if they stuck to them.

This is what happened on day three, even with Ashwin unexpectedly absent.

India won the Ranchi Test with another day-three performance for the ages, but they also won it with one shot late on day two. It's a fallacy that single moments can change entire Test matches, but sometimes a moment is freighted with too much post-facto symbolic power for a writer to waste.

Kuldeep Yadav's defence is sound enough to portend a Kumble-esque, Gillespie-esque fairytale hundred at some point in his career. But until this series, you may have wondered if he had an attacking game at all. Over these last few weeks, he has revealed that he has one, albeit one he's quite coy about showing off. In Rajkot, he stepped out and thumped Tom Hartley for a mighty six over wide long-on, an entirely unexpected bolt of aggression in a 91-ball 27.

In Ranchi, he had faced just one ball and was facing Hartley when India were seven down and trailing England by 176. He chose this moment to unfurl a reverse-sweep of breathtaking cheekiness, and absolutely nail it.

The moment said nothing about how Kuldeep would bat through the rest of his innings. It was not in the least characteristic of how India battled their way back into the Test match. But the line of the ball was outside off stump, the length was right for the shot, and there was a big gap behind point. The reverse-sweep was completely on, and Kuldeep played it like he knew exactly what he was doing.

"Relax, guys," Kuldeep seemed to tell his team-mates. "I know what I'm doing here. We've got this."


The fact that India have won 17 home series in a row can make you forget that they've overcome some incredibly hairy situations along the way. Bengaluru 2017 is the classic example - 1-0 down and bowled out for 189 on day one. Delhi last year was another - 139 for 7 in reply to Australia's 263. In 2021, England could quite conceivably have gone home with a 2-2 scoreline if Rishabh Pant and Washington Sundar hadn't rescued India when they were six down and trailing by 59 in Ahmedabad with the prospect of having to bat last. Even an unfancied Sri Lanka side bowled India out for 172 on an Eden Gardens greentop and took a 122-run first-innings lead.

Never before, though, had this sort of jeopardy been the defining feature of a series. India lost the first Test, won - or were widely judged to have won - the second thanks to a one-man bowling display, got to the exact halfway point of the series - day three of the third Test - without a key bowler in an all-to-play-for situation - and had the odds stacked against them in every possible way in the fourth Test.

If this were a boxing match, India were having the ropes tattooed to their backs.

In hindsight, it feels easy to say that India's quality, particularly the unquestionable superiority of their bowling attack to England's, kept making the difference in these situations. But this quality wasn't a given. It can't be when you're forced to field four debutants across a series. It can't be when one of your openers came into the series with only four Tests behind him, and your No. 3, still new to the role, averaged 30.58 after 20 Tests. It can't be when your wristspinner had only played eight Tests since making his debut seven years ago.

It was no given that Akash Deep would bowl like a Mohammed Shami clone and knock out England's top three in the first hour of day one. Or that Mohammed Siraj would help downsize England's total with an incisive burst of reverse swing later that day. It was no given that Dhruv Jurel would bat like a Test-match veteran in two successive crises. Or that Kuldeep would bat for as long as he did, or bowl with the bewitching control he showed while going 15-2-22-4 in England's second innings. Or that there wouldn't be a break in Yashasvi Jaiswal's prolific scoring run. Or that Shubman Gill would find a way to get to a half-century without hitting a single four.

It was not even a given that India's seniors would step up like they did. That Ashwin, whose 12 wickets in the series until then had come at an average of nearly 39, would produce a masterclass of square-seam offspin to run through England's top order on day three. Or that Rohit Sharma would set the tone for a tricky chase with a proactive, seize-the-moment half-century.

India fans are used to the interlocking effect of these kinds of performances in home Tests, to the point that they almost take it for granted. They couldn't take it for granted in Ranchi, or at any point through this series, because of all the unknowns. The cast of characters that made up India's line-ups, and the skill and unusual approach of their opponents, made this a spectacle unlike any they've witnessed before.

Was Ranchi 2024 better than Bengaluru 2017? Has this series matched up to that one? Who knows. And who cares. We've been lucky to witness this era of Indian cricket, and we're seeing signs that the next one could be just as thrilling.