India were toppled from their no 1 Test ranking on Saturday, when they lost the Third Test of their England series by an innings and 242 runs, the worst of three stunning defeats to England, who now assume the no 1 place, much to the evident delight of their raucous fans in Birmingham last weekend. Whereas in the first two Tests Indian supporters could look to opportunities lost, in this match England dominated from start to finish, overwhelming one of the greatest batting lineups ever known and leaving only Praveen Kumar of the Indian bowlers with any credit. After two disappointing matches Strauss and Cook came back with a bang, while England’s bowling and fielding were far superior to the visitors’, with Anderson, Broad, and Bresnan all making the very most of the home advantage.
In twelve years England have gone from worst to best, along the way clocking up victories in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and South Africa, twice at home to Australia and once away, with home victories against Pakistan, the West Indies, Bangladesh (also beaten away), and now India, too. But there have also been disappointments – home losses in the last five years to South Africa and India, a short series lost in India two winters ago, a horrible loss to the West Indies away the next spring, at the very beginning of the Flower-Strauss reign, and, most memorably, a horrendous five-nil thrashing away to Australia shortly after the glorious Ashes victory of 2005. And the drawn series in South Africa two winters ago reminds everyone that there is a third side to contend with at the top of the pecking order.
What will the future hold for England – will they have the strength to sustain the cricket that has brought them to the top; what of India, will the old order finally give way to new, and with what results? Can England win again on the sub-continent; can they possibly win in India (where they have not won a series since 1985); will South Africa overtake them this winter? Does India’s cricketing establishment care enough about Test cricket to make the sorts of efforts that England have made on the way to number one? And, if not, what will this mean for Test cricket? Nowadays in world cricket only the BCCI and the ECB have “serious money” to spend. England have spent their money from TV contracts lavishly on development (look at the improvements in women’s cricket, in youth cricket, and in club cricket in the game’s homeland), and, at the top level, on winning Test matches, which matter far more to the English sports fan than any other version of the game. The BCCI is even richer, much richer, in fact than the ECB, but will the principal sources of its riches – limited-overs cricket and the IPL – mean that India’s fall from grace in Test cricket will be hard to rectify? These are just a few of the questions that the current England-India series has raised.
A more local question also remains to be answered: what will happen at the Oval in the next few days? But, for now, it is time to look at how India crumbled in the first three matches. MCA’s distinguished high-performance coach, Dr V. V. Giri, pulls no punches when he looks at India’s failings.
INDIA LOST THE TEST, THE SERIES, THE NUMBER ONE SPOT & ALL RESPECT
India Edged Out at Edgbaston.
The Indians were thumping their chests when they climbed up to the No. 1 Test ranking. Everyone, including the BCCI and the players, made merry, riding on the success they tasted during the period.
And then came the World Cup-winning campaign, which took their confidence, or overconfidence depending upon how we see it, to another level. But it all came crashing down when they lost everything — their No. 1 spot and, with that, their self-respect as well, after losing the third Test against England by an innings and 242 runs.
India came into day four thinking of doing something unimaginable. They were 451 runs behind England’s mammoth first innings’ total of 710/7 declared when stumps were drawn on Friday and had nine wickets intact. A Herculean task was required. But their top order fell like ninepins before Praveen Kumar and MS Dhoni provided at least something to cheer for the thousands of the gloomy-looking Indian fans sitting inside Edgbaston and the millions who witnessed their team being routed on television. Except for Dhoni, Praveen, and Sachin Tendulkar, none of the Indian batsman showed any resistance against the pace and bounce of the English seamers. James Anderson proved to be the chief tormentor for the Indians in their second innings as the swing bowler took four of the top five batsmen. Anderson accounted for Sehwag for a king pair, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid & Laxman. The seasoned Dravid had not, in fact, nicked the ball, but he thought he had and chose not to take the referral. The teams now head to London for the last Test at the Oval, which is rendered a dead rubber.
England’s trio of quickies has been so dominant that the much-vaunted Indian batting line-up has failed to reach 300 in six attempts. They have the discipline to frustrate their opponents, the pace to intimidate them, and the skill to get them out.
Before the tour started, all the hype was focused on Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th international century, but the little master has disappointed in each of his six innings in the three Tests. To state the obvious, Tendulkar has looked ordinary. James Anderson and Stuart Broad never let the little master get settled. Another senior batsman, VVS Laxman, also has been pretty average on this tour. He got starts in a few innings but was never able to make them count. Indeed, Team India’s batting has been so poor (except for Dravid) that in the whole series so far they have been able to share just one century stand, as compared to England’s nine. A side which is known for its batting and has the world’s best batsman in its ranks has been humiliated and has struggled to find answers to the pace and swing in England.
The way this England side has humiliated Team India has put question marks over many players. Suresh Raina, who has been seen as one of the brightest stars of India, has been the biggest flop show. His weakness against the short-pitched stuff has been exposed big time and, with the ball swinging, this man has looked out of sorts every time he has come to the crease. Virender Sehwag’s Test return was even worse, as the Indian opener bagged a King Pair in the third Test, raising further questions over his comeback when he still seems to be recovering from shoulder surgery. His body language looks out of sorts and he seems uninterested. Anyone can make out that he is not fully fit, but why he was even selected for the tour is a question BCCI needs to answer.
This is perhaps the biggest low for India since MS Dhoni took over the reins in all the three formats and may open a can of worms for the BCCI, who got so obsessed with the No. 1 ranking that they never thought of the players who earned them that recognition.
How did India get knocked off their perch? When India lost the first Test at Lord’s, it was thought that they were just given a bloody nose by England and that the visitors would come back strongly in the next three Tests. But their performance went from bad to worse in the next two games.
The following could well be the reasons behind India’s pathetic show in a series termed ‘marquee’ by both former players and cricket pundits.
Zaheer Khan’s injury: Losing Zaheer Khan, India’s premier pacer, on the first day of the opening Test came as a body blow to Team India. It also had the biggest impact on their performance from that point on. His injury could well be the ‘series-changing’ moment.
Kevin Pietersen’s double ton: KP is someone who loves challenges, which always bring the best out of him. The tall batsman took full toll of the injury-ravaged Indian bowling unit by hitting a match-winning double century in the first Test at Lord’s. His knock also gave the English side a head start, on which they built in the next two Tests.
Sachin Tendulkar’s illness & indifferent form: Sachin looked like a very ordinary batsman in this series, going down time and again like the other Indian bunnies.
Out-of-form MS Dhoni: It was only in the Birmingham Test (third Test of the series) that the Indian captain showed glimpses of his usual self. Before that he was in terrible form with the bat and gloves. Dhoni’s below-par performance directly affected his captaincy, as he took some bizarre decisions while leading the team on the field.
Off-color Harbhajan Singh: India wanted their leading spinner, especially someone who has taken over 400 Test wickets, to come into the series well prepared. But instead of providing important breakthroughs for the team, Harbhajan bowled awfully and then broke down, going out of the series with an abdominal strain.
Unsettled opening combination: In the absence of Virender Sehwag at the top of the batting order, India tried Abhinav Mukund with Gautam Gambhir in the first Test. But the 21-year-old could not live up to expectations, and an injury to Gambhir only made matters worse for the side. Dravid, despite his displeasure, was once again asked to open with Mukund in the second innings of the Test.
No quality back-up spinner: After the ineffectiveness of Harbhajan Singh, India tried Amit Mishra in the Birmingham Test. And though the leg-spinner gave India a few lower-order wickets, he was unable to control the purchase he was getting from the wicket. And the number of times he overstepped in England’s first innings was both surprising and frustrating.
Experiment with Yuvraj Singh: The 29-year-old has already had 11 years in international cricket and was yearning to get back into the Test side. But he looked as uncomfortable with the short balls as his teammate Suresh Raina. And it was his ineffectiveness in handling a short delivery that led to the finger injury he suffered off the bowling of Tim Bresnan, which ruled him out after just two Tests.
Alastair Cook’s monumental knock: No one could have hoped that the 26-year-old Essex player, who has been in the form of his life in the last year, would not score runs in the first two Tests. But then Cook came into form with a bang, scoring 294 in the first innings of the third Test. He was made man-of-the-match for his magnificent batting display, which handed India their third biggest defeat in Test history.
The main reason for India’s debacle: Ishant Sharma, and S. Sreesanth bowled very badly in this series in very helpful conditions. They are the ones to be blamed for the meek surrender when their counterparts — the English seamers — tormented the Indian batsmen in helpful condition.
Thus, India lost the Edgbaston TEST, THE SERIES, THE NUMBER ONE SPOT & most importantly – RESPECT.