We continue our series of reflections from distinguished cricketer and coach Dr V. V. Giri, this time bringing our readers his thoughts on the first Test Match between England and India, a Test match of huge interest to many of our families, in a series between two of the best teams in Test cricket today. MCA would also like to publish the comments and reactions of its members, both to the series and to Dr Giri’s learned remarks. Please send MCA your own thoughts on the series.
OH MY ‘LORDS’
With nine wickets in hand on the Day 5 of a Test, you expect the ‘No. 1’ either to win it or draw it.
“The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak”. Perhaps it sounds biblical, but there can’t be a better way to summarize India’s state during those five days at Lord’s which comprised the 2000th Test in the history of cricket, and which India lost. England outplayed India in all departments and are true winners.
The fact is that India fought not one but many adversaries in their 100th Test against their colonial cousins. And the adversaries came in all sizes – ranging from towering England bowlers to a microscopic virus. But before those two hit Team India, one of the most senior hamstrings decided to pull up and render India’s bowling impotent.
But these are things you can’t anticipate. What you can do is prepare intently for a series as important as this one. That’s where probably Team India came second in the contest at Lord’s.
The Indian players came to England from all directions. Barring those who played on the whole West Indies tour, the others returned carrying bandages in case their IPL-caused injuries flared up. This meant that the England unit was better prepared in terms of coordination, which comes with playing together consistently.
Consider this. Had the likes of Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar skipped the IPL, they would have toured the Caribbean and hence India would have been better prepared as a team to face a tough English side. England certainly looked in the swing of things and it showed.
With every passing day, Harbhajan Singh is making it hard to not believe that he has lost his teeth after Anil Kumble’s retirement. Once Zaheer got injured in the first 50 overs of the Test, India had no one to lead the attack, even with a 400-plus wicket-taker on the field. So for how long will India field Bhajji on reputation, and allow a more menacing R Ashwin to gather rust back home? Bhajji was the biggest culprit in this Test.
The same can also be said about Indian skipper MS Dhoni. True that he is currently irreplaceable as a captain, but Dhoni seems to be refusing to admit that playing strokes, not blocking, is his forte. In both innings at Lord’s, Dhoni gave a bit too much respect to the overhead conditions, a fact that comes to light when it is revealed that he faced 103 balls for his 28 runs in the first innings.
In the second innings as well, when Suresh Raina showed that mixing caution with aggression was working, Dhoni acted like a stubborn child refusing to pay heed.
The Indian bowling was on one leg throughout the Test, owing to Zaheer’s hamstring. Opting to bowl in overcast conditions, Dhoni was left with no option but to hand over his gloves to Rahul Dravid and fill in for Zaheer. That allowed Kevin Pietersen to get set and score a double century that put England in command. The number 1 team is depending on just one bowler – it is atrocious.
What followed was even worse. Sachin went down with a viral infection and didn’t field for most part of England’s second innings, which meant he couldn’t bat at his customary No. 4 position. More than that, it was a less than 100 per cent Tendulkar that cost India dear. (Strangely, but sadly, no one expected Sachin to score in the fourth innings and save India!)
Gambhir became the third victim when a Matt Prior sweep hit him flush on the elbow. Though it turned out to be only a bruise, he couldn’t open India’s second innings, forcing the “the one and only perfect team man” – Dravid out of his prolific No. 3 slot to accompany Abhinav Mukund. It also required VVS Laxman to bat at No.3.
India never recovered from this mess, which was evident in their second innings that folded for 261, allowing England to go 1-0 up in the four-Test series.
On the fifth day, victory was highly unlikely, but it didn’t mean that free-flowing batsmen like Dhoni, Gambhir and Tendulkar had to play like Geoffrey Boycott or Chris Tavare. Tendulkar has done this time and again – going in to his shell unnecessarily. Only he and God know the reasons. Laxman (56) and Raina (78) put up a fight, staying at the crease by playing their strokes, but none of the other Indian batters took the cue, and instead buckled under pressure.
Yes, it’s difficult to play with eight fit men but then India is not No. 1 for nothing. For your kind information, these three players were unfit even before the tour. With nine wickets in hand on the final day of a Test, you expect the No. 1 to either win it or draw it, but certainly not lose it.
A meek surrender!!