India celebrate their victory at Lord’s after the fall of James Anderson © Getty Images
By Gaurav Joshi
Almost 18 months ago, the Indian team was agitated, frustrated and angered with the way they had been humiliated in England and Australia on pitches they felt were doctored for the home side. It had resulted in an 8-0 clean sweep and the players led by the the captain MS Dhoni felt it was time for “revenge”. Returning home after a tumultuous time away from home, Dhoni had a clear directive. It was to produce pitches that turned and bounce from Day One. The first recipients of such tactics were an England team that had a miserable record in the sub-continent. They had been whitewashed 3-0 in the United Arab Emirates by Pakistan and managed to scramble a solitary win in Sri Lanka to draw a series.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had endorsed Dhoni’s thoughts. Right from the warm up matches, the selectors had starved England of adapting to Indian pitches by firstly, making them play on pitches with grass and selecting a team that was missing a front-line spinner.In the first Test at Ahmedabad, the ideology seemed to be working as England were routed by nine wickets as the Indian spinners took 13 of the 20 English wickets. Despite the margin of victory, Dhoni was not satisfied by the pitch. After al,l it had taken his two front line spinners 154 overs to bowl out England in the 2nd innings.
At the press conference Dhoni made his point. “I don’t even want to see this wicket,” he said. “There wasn’t enough turn and bounce for the spinner. Hopefully in the coming matches we’ll see the wicket turn, right from start, or as soon as possible so that the toss doesn’t become vital.” The thoughts emphasised greed and desperation. Fast forward eighteen months to the present day. It was England that had returned home after the humiliation at the hands of the old enemy. The English felt that Australia had doctored their pitches to suit their hostile pace attack. They were demoralised, shattered and frustrated just like India were eighteen months ago.
Similar to India, the English bowlers also felt the need to play to their natural strengths; which based around green seaming tracks that could potentially exploit the weakness of their opponents. England were starved of their possession for their first three Tests at home in 2014, whereas India prayers were answered in four days in 2012. The curator had the Wankhede Stadium had fullfilled India’s wish. A pitch with spin and turn was rolled out for the home team to seek advantage. From Day One, the red soil started to loosen up and it took sublime innings from Cheteshwar Pujara to take India to a commanding position. It is normal for pitches in India to deteriorate as the game wears on so a total of 327 looked good.
Two days later, England had pulled off a stunning victory against all the odds. They had found two batsmen, one a natural aggressor and one a resilient compiler to score runs on a pitch that was termed ‘unplayable” for them. Importantly, they had two spin bowlers that outperformed their counterparts in conditions that were so alien to them. Back in the present, the frustration was growing in England. From various reasons provided by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), such changes in the ground surfaces and the dry weather meant the pitches demanded by England could not be dished out.
At the conclusion of Day Two and Three at Lord’s, England’s most experience bowlers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad stated in the press “We just like a pitch with good carry” said Anderson. Broad put it in more of rhetorically way “Pitches in India do more for fast bowlers than this.” After three Tests of constant harassment and pleading finally England got to the ‘Home of Cricket’ with smiles on their faces. They had a pitch that resembled a centre court at Wimbledon. It only got better on the morning of Day one as their captain won the toss and decided to give India the first use of a pitch. It was like having the first bite of a cake that was only made for two people.
What happened in the next four hours under the bright sunny day resembled a uncanny parallel to what happened to India under the sunny skies of Mumbai in November 2012. Like Kevin Peitersen in 2012, India on Day One had a found their own in Ajinkya Rahane. Like Alastair Cook in 2012, India had found their own in Murali Vijay. Similar to Mumbai, the Indian medium pacers in Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma had out bowled their senior counterparts in Anderson and Broad. The mistakes Indian bowlers had made on Day Two and Three at Mumbai, were replicated by the English bowlers on Day One at Lord’s. The days might have been different but the pitch produced the greatest assistance for the respective attacks on those particular days.
On the eve of defeat in Mumbai, Dhoni admitted his bowlers had erred in length. “They batted off the back foot really well. I wish we were a bit fuller, and made them drive more,” Dhoni said. Dhoni knew it was a golden opportunity that was wasted and his bowlers had succumbed to high expectations. It might have been Day Five at Lords but the England bowlers had committed the same mistakes right from the first ball on Day One. They constantly banged the ball short of the length to squander a distinct advantage. In Mumbai the Indian spinners failed to bowl at the right speed. At Lords, the England seamers erred.
On both occasions, the home team’s extreme anxiety has back fired big-time. Both India and England have proved that when the team is in the doldrums and the mental state is fragile even the assurance of home is not enough to dictate a win.
Complete coverage of India’s tour of England 2014
(Gaurav Joshi is an Indian-born Australian who played with Michael Clarke in his junior days. He coaches and reports for a Sydney radio station. Over the years he has freelanced for Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and is a regular on ABC cricket show Cow Corner. He is the author of the book “Teen Thunder Down Under” – The inside story of India’s 2012 U19 World Cup Triumph).