India’s report card in the England series so far
Sachin Tendulkar’s (right) barren run in Tests continues © PTI
The English challenge has come alive as they outsmarted the Indians and gave them a taste of their own medicine in the second Test match of the series at Mumbai. A team that is so dominant at home were made to bite the dust on conditions they favour. Following the victory at Ahmedabad, one would have expected the Indians to dominate at Mumbai. With the series level, one must look back at the performances of the Indian players in the first two Tests and determine what it holds for the remainder of the series.
Gautam Gambhir: The under-pressure Indian opener is gradually getting back to his run-scoring ways. In the first Test at Ahmedabad, he looked determined to spend time in the middle and managed to score 45 in the first innings. It was an important knock as he showed patience and avoided those tentative pokes. At Mumbai, he was by far India’s best batsman in the second innings. Even as the others fell apart, Gambhir held firm with a disciplined approach and was assured in his footwork. If it wasn’t for him, India wouldn’t have overhauled England’s lead.
Virender Sehwag: The performances of the Indian openers had been under scrutiny, but Sehwag was under lesser pressure when compared to Gambhir. His hundred at Ahmedabad was a refreshing knock as he combined caution with aggression. He showed the tenacity to stick it out in the middle and yet scored at a very good rate. In the second game at Mumbai – which was also his 100th Test – Sehwag seemed to be in good touch in the first essay until Monty Panesar shattered his woodwork. In the second innings, it wasn’t the usual Sehwag who took guard as he looked very cautious and ultimately lost his wicket to Monty. The Indian innings never recovered after that blow.
Cheteshwar Pujara: The youngster has been India’s best batsman in the series with tons of runs to his name. With each passing knock he is assuring the Indian fans that the post-Rahul Dravid era wouldn’t be gloomy and that there is hope for a solid future. His double ton at Ahmedabad helped India to a huge total and he returned to seal the deal for India in the second innings. However, his hundred in the first innings at Mumbai is one that would give him tremendous satisfaction as it came in testing conditions with India in a spot of bother. His only failure came during India’s collapse in the decisive second essay.
Sachin Tendulkar: The horror run continues as the greatest batsman of this era struggles in the twilight of his career. While he looked in decent touch at Ahmedabad and one felt his aggressive intent got the better of him, the twin failures at Mumbai leave him with a lot of questions. This is the fourth consecutive Test at home that he has failed to make a mark. One doesn’t know how long he would continue and his struggle is evident. His recent failures make a painful sight and one can only hope for things to get better.
Virat Kohli: Coming into this series with tons of runs to his name, Kohli has failed to rise to the occasion. At Ahmedabad, he failed in the first innings, but was promoted during the run-chase and effectively finished the game. His dismissals in the Mumbai Test were surprising – particularly when you consider the way he has played this year. On both occasions he got out attempting expansive strokes. The dismissal in the second innings was appalling as he chipped a full toss to mid-off. Kohli certainly has to pull his socks up by the time the two sides face-off at Kolkata.
Yuvraj Singh: The comeback man Yuvraj Singh announced his return to Test cricket with a fifty in the first Test. It is a critical juncture in his career as he takes a shot at redemption in the longer format. The two failures in the second Test have taken the sheen off his knock in the first game. Yuvraj cannot hold on to the number six spot with a few fifties here and there. He needs that one big innings – one that would define his Test career – to establish himself.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni: The man with the Midas touch demanded a turning track to back his strength — a strategy that back-fired big time. He has had a horrible time with the bat and his only decent contribution came during the first innings at Mumbai. During the second Test, he continued to stand far behind the wicket (to Zaheer Khan) even though the ball wasn’t carrying. As a result, a few edges didn’t carry to the slips. This isn’t the first time such a thing has happened. Dhoni must consider standing a few metres ahead if there isn’t enough carry in the wicket.
Ravichandran Ashwin: Having been built up as the spinner with the mystery, Ashwin hasn’t troubled the England batsmen as much as one would have expected. In England’s first innings at Ahmedabad, he started well when he rocked the top order. It has all gone down downhill from that point as he struggled to pick wickets.
Pragyan Ojha: The only bright spot in the bowling department — who has backed his strength and bowled within his limitations. He doesn’t have the variations like Ashwin, but has the classical loop that can pose tricky questions. He was absolutely brilliant in the first Test and didn’t give England a chance. The English batsmen attacked him at Mumbai and Kevin Pietersen in particular was severe on him. However, Ojha looked the only one capable of getting the wickets and although he may have conceded runs, he did manage to scalp five victims.
Harbhajan Singh: One doesn’t know why he is in the Test squad, let alone the playing eleven. The off-spinner has done nothing of note in First-Class cricket to work his way back into the Test side. His selection for the Mumbai Test was a surprise and the fact that he was underbowled reflects the confidence of the captain.
Zaheer Khan: The left-arm pacer hasn’t had much to do in the series as India have relied on spin. In the first Test, he did account for a few crucial breakthroughs. The left-arm pacer’s form has been a concern for quite some time and he needs a good performance to get back to his best rhythm. India may be dependent on spin, but history would suggest that Zaheer’s success has been pivotal in home victories.
Umesh Yadav: India’s pace sensation bowled with fire at Ahmedabad and added a different dimension to the attack. An injury ruled him out of the second Test and he is set to miss the third game at Kolkata.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)