End of yet another Test series on the English land for Team India, but result is not too different from 2011. The only exception is the rub of the green going India’s way at the historic Lord’s ground. The way the series ended attributes more disgrace to this young Indian team and revival of soul & spirit for the English team.
This series began, with a batting paradise at Nottingham, where both the teams displayed their batting prowess. This stalemate pitch called for wide spread outrage in English cricket and a strong call was made for a pitch that suites the home team’s potential. India surprisingly bounced England out of the game in the Second test at Lord’s and draws first blood. In spite of being on loosing side England still looked good after promising performances from Ballance, Root and Ali. India felt they had Ishanth the bowler, they knew. Though, Moeen Ali picked up 3 wickets in second innings, India still thought they could pick runs off Moeen Ali and rightfully so.
The real test began from third match in the series. I call it as stern test NOT because of the result it yielded, but because this young Indian side never played more than two tests overseas. India lost toss on a flat track at Southampton and Cook was dropped at 15 by Jadeja in slips; Cook converted that luck and piled on another 80 runs from there. It is easy to say that this was the pivotal point in the series, but greater teams move on with these fumbles and show character to turn the tide; India did not display that character or the spirit. To add more to the misery of the visitors, the Jadeja and Anderson controversy took a nasty turn on India and they found completely deserted in the process, more importantly team’s morale took a serious beating. Surprisingly for India, Ali started to pose an eminent threat. They treated him with overconfidence initially and were now forced to treat him overcautiously. What followed later in Manchester and then finally at Oval, was just a batting debacle that grew bigger as the series progressed. Indian batting in the last 3 innings of this series was a mere surrender exercise, rather than a scoring one. Spirit was lost and souls were crying for liberation of duty. India managed to win only one session in the last 3 tests, such was the dominance of England.
One would often wonder how a team scuttles to such a degraded performance. An unbiased retrospection of an Indian team always reveals the fact that it is that occasional blitz by one fast bowler and consistent performance by batsmen that does the job for India overseas. At Gabba, it was Ajit Agarkar; At South Africa it was Sreesanth and at Lords it was Ishanth.
One big difference between both the sides was the game plan they devised for each other. India’s game plan was to play Broad & Anderson carefully and take runs off Ali and other bowlers (Plunkett/Voges); when they were not allowed to score freely from the 3rd or 4th bowler, they seemed helpless and stupefied. England had their game plan well executed and they got plenty of help from slip fielding of India and Indian batsmen. Catching in slips has reached historic lows; Indian slip cordon is safest haven for the opposition batman. It made better bowler like Pankaj Singh look worst. India needs to realize that slip fielding is a specialist position like Point and needs to identify right men for the job.
MSD continued his ambiguous selection with picking Rohith ahead of Ashwin at Southampton, it showed team was happy to maintain the lead and deferred the charge of taking more lead to Manchester. Again, baseless selection of Gambhir in last two tests, when he was struggling against Shami in nets.
Dhoni’s glove work seems to be decrepit; it is evident from how he stands straight when the fast bowler runs in. He is someone who leads, keeps wickets and bats for every game he plays. This is true irrespective of the format and level (International/franchise). I strongly believe it is time to relieve him of some duties; this will help unleash the batsmen in him, which we all like. With his strategies and resources on hand, he seems totally out of place, as a leader in the white jersey. It can be argued that he did not have best of the resources but leadership is about extracting the best from existing resources; that is what leaders like Stephen Fleming did for New Zealand or Alistair Campbell did for Zimbabwe. I think Team India will benefit with a new leader and new thought process.
Experts / pundits have been amazed at the failure of Pujara and Kohli, who probably are one of the brightest batsmen in world cricket (at least before the start of this series). I wrote in my postmortem article of Kiwi tour that Kohli seems to have a weakness on the off stump and it has been aggravated on this trip.Pujara’s high back lift is creating him a problem, it is a technical short coming and he needs expert guidance / advice to rectify that. In this context, support staff appears totally mundane. Top order batsman like Pujara / Kohli/ Rohith / Dhawan; have been making same mistakes repeatedly and there does not seem to be a process / action in place to take corrective measures. Indian slip fielding has been alarming in recent times, but no corrective measures were taken. Team management also seems to have unprecedented trust on the ability of Jadeja, he is a “dart” bowler; he can have success on flat and bouncy tracks, but not on seeming ones. His batting is more of hit or miss, which proved to be a disaster. I believe that the Indian bowlers have met their expectation in this series, Shami and the all-rounders being the exception. Shami looked tired throughout the series; team management has to seriously balance his workload. His pace took a serious beating and length was wayward. Pankaj Sharma was unlucky not to get more wickets, but his pace/length does not justify his height. He can be effective only if he picks up his pace.
Team management strategies also perplexed me, Kohli was asked to practice to sweep against the off spin of Moeen Ali, when he is good at using his feet. There was no clear plan on using Jadeja or Binny. There is no apparent measure to enforce discipline among players who repeat the same mistake. There has been a serious outrage in 2011 and 2012 that there is no scrutiny on the work of the support staff. But now, I think time has come to react and respond by looking at alternatives. It can be argued, if we really need a change with less than 7 months before World cup; well if changes are not done now, India could have a short world cup tour!!
I fear Team India has set a mandate for other teams, that having seeming pitches is good enough to bully the Indian team and cement a victory. This team needs to quickly re write their own mandate else a similar result in Australia, later this year is inevitable.