Team India’s failures were a plenty; be it the original Sachin Tendulkar, the next batting Tendulkar or the next bowling Tendulkar. They all failed in a collective heap.
Pre-series analysis expected the spinners to scythe through the English batting in the pre-series. But they failed in their own backyard. Pragyan Ojha was the better of the spin pack and got rewarded with five-fors, although he had to work hard for that. Ravichandran Ashwin was untidy and disappointing as a bowler on whom the pre-series expectations were immense. Harbhajan Singh’s selection was unjustified; he had only himself to blame on counts of lines, length and pace. Piyush Chawla hardly put forth his case with the only match he played featuring three other spinners.
In seamer-friendly conditions, India best bowler was Umesh Yadav – unfortunate to be sidelined with a sore back. In short bursts, Zaheer Khan looked to be bowling his heart out, with years of experience speaking with the ball. But his notorious fitness worries yet again got the better of him. Ishant Sharma, however, did reasonably well on his return.
Since the turn of the millennium, India has won most matches — memorable or not, overseas or not, Test matches or not — with their batting prowess. When a generation of batting finally entered a point of no return, reality struck painfully. It left a huge gaping hole in the middle order. The first fault being was the inefficacy to find a successor for Sourav Ganguly in the batting order that has all along been camouflaged by the genius of the other three in the ‘Fab Four’. India has shuttled between Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh with neither establishing himself.
Tendulkar’s halo has gone. Going through his poorest run of form, he has been under the pump. A cumbersome 76 in Kolkata has been his only decent return this series. In many ways, it may be one of his important innings. The same duo of Swann and Panesar, which might have had to go the Michael Yardy way into depression had he been in sublime form, has got his numbers this time around.
Tendulkar has been down many a time in the past, but he has come back strongly. It’s possibly that the passage of time that takes a toll on the body may have the final say. Having said that, we are mere spectators and adulators; we must be sensible enough to abstain from ‘doomsday’ prophecy of a maestro.
While India has a rich pool of young – and not so young – batting talent at its disposal, with a few yet to debut and a few who have around five-six Test hundreds between themselves, we must set foot towards building tomorrow’s fortress, sans Tendulkar.
Again, that requires a guiding light, in human form as the team’s coach. Duncan Fletcher’s record with India has been abysmal, with most series lost than won. The man who was responsible for turnaround of English cricket in the last decade is now feeling the heat in India. While we don’t know how much freedom he has over team selection, captain’s decisions. The coercive old man who helped the English back then, is visibly not his usual self.
Perhaps, the striking difference between the times around two sides of the World Cup is the captaincy. Mahendra Singh Dhoni can’t be entirely blamed for failure; but then, he is to be blamed for worrying more about the pitch than about what happens over it. And his Test batting, save a few good scores here and there, has been bad over a period of time. It might be a matter of time before we see a new pair of gloves behind the stumps, and play with eleven men in place of ten plus one.
Maybe it is time to for change of guard and calling in specialist coaches for every role like the England team has done. It just eases Fletcher’s position if someone like a Kumble or Ganguly step in and help the team prepare for the series against Australia.
If England were able to stage a stiff fight with us in sub-continental conditions wherein they failed twice, we must brace ourselves for the Aussie onslaught that might well come our way in February.
However, India must not lose a series before it even starts like last time. It must still stick to their guns as hosts, batsmen must go back to the nets and our spinners need to get back to their original plans of spinning a web around the batsmen.
This may seem like the weakest Test team in some time. It may give us that déjà vu feeling of being in the late ’90s. But then what followed then was a miraculous Kolkata ’01. Often, miracles happen to those who deserve it. And the present bunch needs something on those scales. Maybe it is waiting around the corner for them.
(Madhav Krishnan is a student from Birla Institute of Technology and Science (Hyderabad), pursuing M.Sc (Chemistry) and B.E. in Mechanical Engineering)