India’s approach lacked any application or game plan © Getty Images
Once again the Indian batsmen were put under pressure against the English bowling, and once again they succumbed to it. Abhishek Mukherjee explains why the performance has more to do with lack of responsibility than lack of capability.
It is the same, same, same story. India run into quality fast bowling, and the batsmen are exposed; there is some resistance in the middle, but it is not enough; the opposition pile up quite a few runs; the fans expect the teams to do better the second time, but they cannot.
And they lose.
The first morning had found India, already shattered by the debacle at Southampton, in a precarious position; James Anderson bowled like a man possessed and Stuart Broad provided the perfect support. India were reduced to eight for four in no time. Anderson had got The Magic Four — pace, line, length, and movement — all going on for him in helpful conditions.
There was a brief attempt at resurgence, but India did end up being bowled out for 152 including a world record of six ducks in an innings. People laughed, the Twitterati went gaga over anatine cartoons. Everyone accepted that the conditions were beyond India’s scope; Headingley 2002 does not happen very often.
Then there was a surge of hope when India had England down at 170 for six, but Joe Root and Jos Buttler took England to 367. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Pankaj Singh, and Varun Aaron all bowled their hearts out, but once again it was a matter of quality: the Indians were not experienced or equipped enough to bowl out England cheaply.
A deficit of 215 was big, but with Broad injured and neither Chris Woakes nor Chris Jordan really taking the world by storm, India should have hoped to save the innings defeat. Then Woakes brought one in; Murali Vijay’s footwork was not enough and the ball hit him just above the knee-roll.
Gautam Gambhir’s comeback had more to do with Shikhar Dhawan’s poor form than with his own touch. It was only expected that he would make a fight out of it; he had steered one to slip in the first innings. He refused to move out of a slow bouncer from Anderson; it took his glove and Buttler did the rest.
Cheteshwar Pujara could perhaps not be blamed as the ball was too high and would have missed the leg-stump. He looked distraught as Rod Tucker gave him out. Then it all fell apart. Ajinkya Rahane, having played for years in turners in India, could tried to play the ball towards mid-on, but ended up hitting it back to Moeen Ali.
Virat Kohli tried to hit his way back to form and poked at one from Anderson; his lack of form was evident as he reached out for it, and the edge flew to Ian Bell at second slip. Ravindra Jadeja charged out to Anderson for some explicable reason, got a four, and prodded one from Moeen — an off-spinner, something that Indians have traditionally never got out to. It was back to MS Dhoni and Ravichandran Ashwin again.
Dhoni’s resilience had helped India cross hundred in the first innings. He hit Woakes for three fours, and then, for some reason, tried to clear mid-wicket; India were not exactly nine-down, and though Dhoni had got the hang of Moeen (he has always been excellent against off-spinners), a big hit was not the call of the hour. Dhoni holed out to Gary Ballance at mid-wicket. Just like that.
Ashwin, with his excellent technique and exquisite strokeplay, lit up Old Trafford and brought some smile back to the Indian faces, but he was about to run out of partners. Bhuvneshwar edged one to slip off Jordan but it turned out to be a no-ball. It did not matter to a man hell-bent on committing hara-kiri, calling for an impossible second and running so slowly that the third umpire was not even referred to.
Aaron is no Don Bradman, but he could actually have tried to become a Jason Gillespie by trying to hold out till stumps. He blocked a couple of balls before fending one to Buttler. And Pankaj was simply not equipped to handle a yorker. India were bowled out in 43 overs; they had lasted 22 balls fewer than they had done in the first innings.
Elsewhere, Zimbabwe — who had been desperate enough to recall Mark Vermeulen (who had played his last Test in 2004) — had kept Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, and Morne Morkel at bay and had left Harare Cricket Ground with their chin high on 248 for nine. India had capitulated to an innings defeat against an opposition that lacked an opening bowler.
Three of the English bowlers, Woakes, Jordan, and Moeen, had nine wickets between them before the series had started. Vijay scored 18 in the Test; Gambhir, 22; Pujara, 17; Kohli, seven; and Rahane, 25. The ten innings accounted for 89. Hence the embarrassment; hence a humiliating defeat in well short of three days despite four hours of play being lost to rain.
It was not a matter of competence; it had to do with pluck and attitude; and the Indians, unfortunately, displayed none of it. A pack of cards would have perhaps shown more mettle in a tsunami.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)