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Updated: August 15, 2011 03:24 IST

There are issues that need to be addressed

S. Ram Mahesh
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LEARNING IT THE HARD WAY: Suresh Raina walks back to the pavillion. Though Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman showed ways of combating the moving ball, the next generation, with less rounded batting education, will find the going tough. File photo
AP LEARNING IT THE HARD WAY: Suresh Raina walks back to the pavillion. Though Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman showed ways of combating the moving ball, the next generation, with less rounded batting education, will find the going tough. File photo

What England did was assault the character of the erstwhile No.1.

This was meant to be a marquee series, the one the world had been waiting for, but India didn't turn up; England didn't allow it to.

What England did especially well — it wasn't a concerted effort, merely the result of it staying true to its playing style — was assault the character of the erstwhile No.1.

India, unlike some of the others who've had claims in the past to being the best in the cricket-world at what they do, wasn't a team financed by bowling riches. The bowlers advanced India incrementally, but it was the batsmen who were the bankers.

There was a reason for India's remarkable resilience on tour. By the time the batsmen adjusted and found a way to succeed, India was often one down. Thereafter, by skill and magic, they gave their bowlers enough to work with. The bowlers performed above themselves because their potency was heightened by the conditions. The batsmen then preserved the position of parity or strength. It was with this style of absorbing blows, and counterpunching, that India rose to No.1 and stayed there for the best part of two years.

Bone-juddering blow

But England landed blow after bone-juddering blow until India's will to fight ebbed away. It was uniquely placed to do so, for its bowlers operated with a degree of intense hostility not commonly seen. India's batsmen were given few ‘looseners', few ‘sighters'. In conditions where the ball moves both in the air and off the pitch, batsmen hate to be questioned nearly every delivery; India hadn't the answers.

Not once in six innings did India survive 100 overs: it lasted 95.5 and 96.3 overs at Lord's, 91.4 and 47.4 at Trent Bridge, and 62.2 and 55.3 at Edgbaston. The average partnership for the top six wickets was 27, as miserable a performance as the 1999-2000 series in Australia, which India lost 3-0. The sense of bleak anguish is similar.

Mitigating factor

If there is a mitigating factor it is this: India couldn't field its top five batsmen in their natural positions until the third Test by which time it had begun to scar; and it couldn't field its top five with sufficient game-time behind them.

In an ideal world (or perhaps merely a professional, efficient world where Test cricket supersedes all), India would have had its best batsmen, with the benefit of an intense warm-up period, take on England's bowling might at Lord's. This isn't to say India would have won; it would, however, have been best placed to succeed.

There are issues of priorities and scheduling that need addressing, but that is an administrative matter. The BCCI has done its Test team no favours. Merely because India has so often in the past transcended such problems doesn't mean it can do it every time. Besides, the moving, bouncing ball causes a singular set of problems.

M.S. Dhoni suggested after the third Test that a technical overhaul was out of the question. India played 70 per cent of its cricket at home, and the batsmen couldn't afford to change too much — they had to trust their basic set-up and, at best, tune certain parts. There is a lot of sense in what he says not least because of the effort needed to make mechanical corrections: 10,000 hours of repetition aren't possible when you don't have an off-season; muscle memory being what it is falls back on what it remembers best.

Moreover there isn't a one-fits-all formula. While what the great Bill Brown (he of Bradman's Invincibles) told Mathew Hayden about batting in England — “Play straight till you settle” — is sage advice, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman showed another way of combating the moving ball, even early in the innings. Their hands went with the swing, making soft-rapid changes, to guide and stroke the ball square and behind square.

In the second innings here at Edgbaston, Sachin Tendulkar aligned himself to middle and off-stump in his stance (Martin Crowe's method against swing: anything outside his right eye was outside the off-stump, so line became easier to judge). Tendulkar also batted out of his crease, although he was forced back when Matt Prior came up.

Dhoni shuffled forward to disrupt length, trusting his hand-speed and his ability to shift balance swiftly. But so relentless were England's bowlers in the corridor of uncertainty that they provoked errors.

With Virender Sehwag batting two balls all match, it wasn't until Dhoni found his game that someone threatened to put them off. England's response when attacked will encourage India (though it will affect the series not at all); what will worry India, however, is that its greatest batsmen have found it tough. The next generation, with less-rounded batting educations, can't possibly find it any easier.

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The defining moments for India was in the first innings of the second test at Trent Bridge. Two solid opportunities to drive the advantage home was squandered first on day one with England 124 for 8 ending up with 224 and later surendered on day two ,India crashing from 273 for 4 to 273 for 9.
To comeback after this against a formidable England team on their home grounds and conditions was just not possible.What a shame, as it is rare for a team to get 2 such golden chances to make a statement on the series and square the series.

from:  Ravi Prasad
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 21:26 IST

You are on the dot Ramesh. Absolutely superb analysis of the Indian ascent to no.1 and the present debacle. But does anybody care? A marginally better performance in the one-day series that follows - high hopes at this juncture- and the entire country will forget all this four-test debackle and allow BCCI to be back with its ways of IPL and other frivolous forms of cricket.

from:  Prakash
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 21:18 IST

Well written piece. It explains the situation of the Indian team. It expresses the limitations of a captain given the choice of players though perhaps he has a hand in selecting some and has to accept some others who have the clout to stay permanently. The test fans can lament until cows come home. But some of the players in the team dont give a damn and do not care about the captain either. They have made their millions and zillions and they have their followers jotting their tainted records and are chasing more of the same vicariously at the cost and value of a genuine game of test cricket. Nothing comes easy. With some ..senior players having a choke hold on the positions in the team they have destroyed the careers and chances of ever so many deserving. It is an old boys club with hidden hands dominating. One cannot expect honest results from this situation. Of course, it is nasty to say this in public, so this too shall pass.

from:  Bharani
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 19:17 IST

Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman should quit because Tendulkar is 38, Dravid is 39, and Laxman is 37. India should bring new blood in the team. Secondly, there should be rest for the players. They like to play commercial cricket more than cricket for the country.

from:  Asad Haider
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 16:10 IST

The selection panel (for choosing unfit players), the top 5 batsmen except Dravid and Zak must be blamed for the humiliating defeats. I would not blame the bowlers. We possibly need an independent selection panel capable of choosing players by merit and achievements alone. We need players with an attitude and a determination to succeed. Fletcher would be a pretty good coach but we would do well to appoint an Indian coach next time.

from:  Srini
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 13:09 IST

This series has been the far worst performance of Indian team for as many years as I can remember, three test lost with glaring margins. It just shows that Indian team has been totally outplayed in all departments of the game. The reasons lay in excessive cricket, poor planning, lack of longterm strategy, ego-clashes, misplaced priorities. Like in other cases, the accountability has to be fixed on BCCI too. While we see coaches and selectors being sacked in hockey or football, we don't demand the resignations of BCCI officials. The cricket fans are always taken for granted and this culture of 'holier than thou' must stop. Its common knowledge now that players are being used as milch cows and they are working like slaves since last 2-3 years. At the same time, players must focus on their fitness levels which are a main concern now. Finally, sports ministry is right in bringing BCCI under the ambit of RTI which will enforce some sort of accountability.

from:  Sanjay
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 10:33 IST

Mohammad Kaif and Wassiim Jaffer deserve a scond kook

from:  sushil verma
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 07:19 IST

At last, a very well balanced article describing the series. Very beautifully written. After reading supposedly well-researched articles on cricinfo everyday, and feeling that they exaggerate in praise and criticism, am just happy to see The Hindu retains its standard of yore!

from:  raj
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 04:40 IST
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