Time for deep introspection for India after crushing loss | Jamie Alter BlogPosts on Cricket - GoCricket.com
 

Time for deep introspection for India after crushing loss

18 Aug 2014, 1541 hrs IST,  ,  gocricket.com  
© AFP
Kohli will be a fine Test cricketer in the future, but he owns a limited-overs technique and is desperate to chase the ball when it moves away.
Unfortunately, this is a true story. From escaping with a gritty draw at Trent Bridge, to winning at Lord's, to closing with the worst performance under MS Dhoni's captaincy - it has been a remarkable tour of England for the Indian team, but unfortunately for the wrong reasons.

The scoreline shows that England won handsomely at 3-1, but does not show the gulf in class between the two teams. It does not show how well India fought back at Lord's, or how they suddenly and stupendously lost their mojo there on. The way England overcame India in Southampton was shockingly easy after the more competitive Lord's Test, and that win set in motion a dramatic turnaround of events. While England soared, India tripped - perhaps the experience of playing a five-Test series favoured the hosts, but for certain it tested India's inexperienced side to new levels.

India's best chance of a revival revolved around them retaining their self-belief, but alas, this was battered in the last three matches.

BATTING STARS FAIL TO SHINE

India's problems started at the top, and crept into the rest of the order. Their opening stands were 33, 49, 11, 40, 17, 26, 8, 26 and 3 and 6. Shikhar Dhawan's career hit a standstill after three Tests, largely because his technique was tested in seaming conditions, and his replacement Gautam Gambhir looks to have blown a lease on life that was in itself a blunder by the selectors. Murali Vijay stood tall with a commanding century at Trent Bridge and twin fifties at Lord's but managed 85 runs in six subsequent innings.

Poor starts meant that Cheteshwar Pujara was batting much earlier than he has been for most of his career, and he found himself way out of depth in bowler-friendly conditions. His habit of being bowled when pushing forward is not new, but against quality seam and swing it became painful. Virat Kohli's complete failure was a surprise and a huge factor in India's performance. He has only 134 runs to show for ten trips to the crease - just 28 more than R Ashwin in four - and has been clinically picked apart by England's bowlers. Kohli will be a fine Test cricketer in the future, but he owns a limited-overs technique and is desperate to chase the ball when it moves away. Much more is expected from a No. 4 batsman.

Day one at Lord's was almost erased by Ajinkya Rahane's quite excellent century, but the Mumbai batsman failed to match that lyrical high. Thrice he was caught and bowled, and at Old Trafford and The Oval he looked like a batsman who had forgotten how to fight. All of these aforementioned batsmen could have taken a leaf out of Dhoni's book, for the India captain - technically and aesthetically lacking - produced four half-centuries that showed an appetite for a scrap.

The big difference compared to South Africa and New Zealand was swing and the pressure of early wickets. Against the finest exponent currently of this art, India's batsmen came undone rapidly. James Anderson specialises in making inroads with the new ball, a multi-faceted bowler able to bowl probing spells under all conditions, and he relentlessly preyed on the frailties of the Indian batsmen's techniques and minds. If he is not the best bowler around at the moment then Anderson is the most versatile and his new-ball partner, Stuart Broad, proved he is back to form after a slump in Australia and against Sri Lanka. So apprehensive against Anderson and Broad were India that they conceded 19 wickets to Moeen Ali's honest, workmanlike offspin.

If Pujara and Kohli are firing, India have a chance. Without contributions close to their career averages, India are likely to fold again. India's batting spine is bending and thoughts of a reprise of last November's success against West Indies come October should be put on hold.

TOO MUCH ON TOO FEW

India arrived knowing that they would have to rely on their pace bowlers. They were led admirably by Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the first two Tests, but the persevering medium-pacer, it seems, just could not cope with bowling a lot of overs across five Tests. In all, he sent down 172.5 overs for 19 wickets, the first 16 of which came in three innings. In the third Test at Southampton, Bhuvneshwar took 4 for 160. At Old Trafford, 3 for 75. And at The Oval, 1 for 86. His pace dipped, his spirit must have sagged. This is understandable watching his batting team-mates leave him with much to do as a bowler and lower-order batsmen. No wonder then that Bhuvneshwar's batting faded away with each trip to the crease.

Mohammed Shami's career graph suddenly went downward from the initial promise shown against West Indies at home and away in South Africa and New Zealand, with only five wickets in three Tests. He was erratic, unsure of what line to settle down on, and was dropped after three Tests. Pankaj Singh, a domestic stalwart with 300 wickets in 77 first-class matches before he was handed a debut at Southampton in Ishant's absence, will remain only a romantic notion. Varun Aaron made a return to Tests after two-and-a-half-years with plenty of promise at Old Trafford - what a ball to bowl Ali - but came undone at The Oval where he conceded 153 runs in 29 overs (economy 5.27), too often spraying the ball down the legside and overstepping four times. Stuart Binny was supposed to be a supporting act, capable of sending down 12 overs a day at the least, but was underutilised in the first two Tests and awful in the fifth. Why he was in the XI from Trent Bridge was debatable, and after a very impressive 78 in the second innings his batting and bowling dissolved rapidly.

And then there was Ishant Sharma. Hero in the second innings at Lord's, then gone for two Tests, then back for the fifth and his usual self. Ishant's injury remains one of the great mysteries surrounding this Indian team of late. What exactly happened to him after his match-turning spell on the final day at Lord's? There was no official explanation of his injury, and Dhoni probably became the first Indian captain to confirm a bowler's absence for two Tests publicly. At The Oval, Ishant took four wickets but was average, very average, especially on the third morning. He bowled five no-balls.

WHITHER SPIN?

Three Tests with Jadeja's left-arm spin, one with him and offspinner R Ashwin teamed up, and one with just Ashwin. The result? A total of 12 wickets from 191.3 overs. Moeen Ali took 19 from 123.4 overs. Jadeja's left-arm spin was not even containing and his batting, barring a maiden Test fifty at Lord's, was unconvincing. His Test future looks to be restricted to home conditions.

Ashwin was picked for the fourth Test, where he took 0 for 29 in 14 overs; tidy without being overly threatening on an Old Trafford pitch that suited the quicks better. Then at The Oval he had figures of 21.3.-2-72-3. Two years, 83 overs and 226 runs separated his previous overseas wicket with that of Gary Ballance at The Oval, and now Ashwin must have a better understanding of what it takes to succeed away from home.

IT'S ALL SLIPPING AWAY

What if Jadeja had held on to a straightforward catch from Alastair Cook on day one at Ageas Bowl? That is the biggest gaffe that comes to mind, and truly the turning point for England and India in this series. In all, ten catches were put down by India. Without a settled slip cordon, this happens. With a captain who doesn't give his cordon enough support, often standing too far behind and at times not going for catches which are actually his, a shaky slip cordon will get shakier. We saw this all series.

COY CAPTAINCY

Has time finally run out for Dhoni? We will know soon enough. For the fifth consecutive overseas tour, Dhoni remained defensive when the opposition started attacking. He picked the wrong combinations and gave some odd answers when asked about mistakes in choice of personnel. He went for Stuart Binny in the first two Tests, but underused him as a medium-pacer. He persisted with Jadeja, then said that he didn't have a better option. He then dropped Jadeja for Binny. He batted when he should have bowled, after dropping a batsman for a bowler at Old Trafford. He chose not to re-jig a weary batting order, which meant that time and again, Pujara and Kohli found themselves in early. These decisions must not have been solely Dhoni's, but the captain is the first person who must acknowledge mistakes and Dhoni not being able to do that only added to the image of a leader lacking in the necessary traits. But perhaps Dhoni's biggest impact came when he chose to invest much time and focus on the Anderson-Jadeja spat at Trent Bridge, a move that subsequently took the sheen off India's drive. Dhoni supporters will argue that he remains the only viable option for the team at the moment, and that a leader is only as good as his team. But under Dhoni, India have won only two of 20 overseas Tests since the 2011 World Cup. In any other country, he would have been long gone by now.

Transforming from pushers to pedestrians in a week takes some doing. India's historic win at Lord's felt like a lifetime ago when they were bowled out for 94 on the final day of the Test series at The Oval. In fact, it now seems almost insignificant.

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Author's Bio

Having reconciled himself to the fact that he would never get paid to play cricket, Jamie Alter decided on the next best thing - writing on the sport. Having ditched a stint at an insurance firm in Boston, Jamie joined Cricinfo where he worked for five years, covering cricket apart from trying to improve - unsuccessfully, ultimately - his technique against the short ball in office cricket. After taking a break to author two cricket books, Jamie was editor of cricketnext.com for two years before joining gocricket.com.