What Happened to India?
July 21st, 2014: Indian won in Lord’s for the first time in 28 years. It was a day to rejoice, and Indian fan and cricketer alike were all happy. However, the cloud of jubilation proved to be but a mask of what would come next. The English batsmen began the third test with an attack of renewed vigour to register a massive total of 569 before James Anderson and Moeen Ali cleaned up the dazed Indian lineup to register a mighty 266 run victory; their first since beating Australia in the Ashes during the summer of 2013. The Indian side never quite looked the same again, as they were routed for 152 and 161 within 3 days during the 4th test, registering one of the meekest surrenders in cricket history. At the start of the 4th test, Independence Day luck failed India as they collapsed yet again to register only 148. Now down 2-1 in the series (with 1 draw), it is hard to see how this young Indian side, which had looked so authoritative back in Lord’s, managed to bring themselves down to such a lowly fate.
The biggest problem in the last 2 tests was undoubtedly the Indian batting lineup’s failure to click. Virat Kohli in particular has failed to give India those strong partnerships and 100-ball innings you see from guys like Kumar Sangakkara. Even Ajinkya Rahane – who looked set to be India’s Mr. Dependable in the making after his mature Lord’s century – stuttered and spluttered in the last few innings. Only a few “rescue operations” (literally) innings from MS Dhoni and R Ashwin saved the Indians from sub-100 scores in the last few innings.
This may lead you to the conclusion that it is easy to blame the losses entirely on India’s batting, but don’t cast your judgement just yet. We must also take into accord England’s bowling. After the Lord’s test, England took a bit of a gamble bringing in 4 specialist fast-bowlers and leaving only 1 part-time spinner. However, it paid off dramatically well. James Anderson and Stuart Broad were the key figures, as they demolished the Indian batting as clinically as German U-Boats sunk Allied shipment during WWII. Don’t forget Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes though. While they may not have done the damage done by the Broad-Anderson duo, they definitely made an impact, silencing a few batsmen and allowing the pressure to creep on them. Now the bottom line question arises: why couldn’t India do the same? Why couldn’t India’s bowlers dive bomb the British batsmen as efficiently as their English counterparts had done to theirs?
There are quite a few reasons for this. The first is poor selection. Where England played 4 full-time seamers, India played just 3, of whom 1 was debuting and 1 was not known for his pace (in the 3rd test). Hence while they were not terrible, they did not do as much as Anderson and Broad had. Their problem was that their selection did not have the pace needed to repeat what Ishant Sharma did back in Lord’s. Varun Aaron had more success in the 4th test, as he picked up 3 wickets, including a lovely inswinger to knock over Moeen Ali. He was probably bowling slower than he would during a T20 to preserve his fragile fitness, but was still fast enough to trouble the English batsmen. This is where it might have been handy to use someone like Umesh Yadav (not selected for the tour) or Mohammed Shami ahead of Stuart Binny or Pankaj Singh, as those guys are probably the fastest bowlers we have in India today and might have had a strong impact.
The second issue is inexperience. India’s complete revamp of the side in the past 3 years has stripped them drastically of hardened international experience. In fact, Ishant Sharma is the only Indian pacer who’s played the tour to debut before 2013. In England, on the other hand, James Anderson and Stuart Broad are hardened veterans, and Woakes and Jordan have a good level of experience with English tracks, even if not much at the international level. Therefore the English side was able to outplay the Indians on experience alone (the inexperienced Indian lineup did not help). Even though guys like Mohammed Shami possessed the pace to dent England, their lack of experience barred the way. Persisting with Zaheer Khan might help. Even though he is injury prone and possesses only flashes of the potent that made him such a lethal bowler a few years ago, he would help smooth the transition into the new generation for India’s quicks.
This tour has been a bittersweet one for India (maybe more bitter than sweet though). They lost two crushing defeats, true, but it’s not everyday that you win a test at Lord’s. I personally feel it will be a tour of comprehension for India. It is time for them to find some way to either bring an experience equilibrium to the squad, or get their youngsters accustomed to foreign conditions (through domestic leagues in different countries). Even if India lose the series, I feel it will be a good wake-up call for them, and will hopefully spark some degree of reform and change, so we have a better, classier Indian side too watch in the near future.