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.
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.
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.
Keywords: India's tour of England