Manoj Tiwary, who excelled in the warm-up match against England, was confined to the sidelines for the Test series © Getty Images
By Anil Zankar
Nothing clouds an Indian’s common sense like a victory in a cricket match. The Mumbai Test has proved that again. After Ahmedabad, we had a cocky attitude as if the ghosts of the 2011 series were exorcised. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s statements regarding pitches implicitly carried some assumptions like:
1. It was beyond England to counter our spinners.
2. Our spinners are already great.
3. English spinners were incapable of causing us any problems. All of these have proved to be extravagant.
The victory in Ahmedabad was not without a few infirmities; Pragyan Ojha took 10 wickets and the pacers accounted for seven of the 20. Ravichandran Ashwin was not as effective in the second innings. But, apparently the pacers do not matter a great deal in Dhoni’s scheme of things. Zaheer Khan is one of the finest swing bowlers, and Umesh Yadav bowls at 90-92 mph all day long. Yet, Yadav was brought on as the fifth bowler; it seemed more as a relief to the ‘main’ bowlers. In the first innings, he was bowling at top speed, but without a single slip, when the score read 111 for seven. Were we watching Test cricket? Malcolm Marshall must be rolling in his grave.
The English, in contrast, were quick learners and determined fighters. They got Monty Panesar in for the second Test. James Anderson bent his back when he saw a helpful track. Alastair Cook was his cool and consistent self. Kevin Pietersen applied himself to play a match-winning innings. Panesar excelled and more than matched the high standards set up by Graeme Swann. It was a delight to watch Swann bowl his off-breaks with loop, drift and subtle variations in Ahmedabad and Mumbai. He earned his wickets by classical off-spin, attacking from outside the off-stump and without any ‘uncricketing’ deliveries.
When Shane Warne had remarked that “these Indians can play spin in their sleep”, he was referring to the likes of Navjot Singh Sidhu, Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman at their best. It is a different story now. Cheteshwar Pujara was the only frontline batsman who proved a class against the English spinners.
Infirmities in Indian cricket continue. Yuvraj Singh has played in 39 so far, without convincing anybody of his ability to do great things in Test cricket. Hero worship and personality cult have no limits in India. In our democracy, certain holy cows are above any questions. So, we’ll continue to hear lines like:
“He was looking good, but suddenly played across the line and lost his wicket”
“He did play a couple of exquisite shots though”
“He is a fighter. Once he begins to flow, he can take the match away”
“Never mind, if he lacks the basic grammar, we expect that he’ll be eloquent in Tests”
“He came out with positive intent, but perished soon today”.
Captain Dhoni, as always, will take “a lot of positives from this game” after another defeat.
In the meanwhile, Yadav will continue to bowl without slips, Varun Aaron will get older, Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary and Ajinkya Rahane will serve the country very well from the sidelines, in Ranji Trophy matches and forward short-leg.
Australians treat their players professionally – not reverentially. After a limited period ban on Shane Warne, he was asked to play in Sheffield Shield matches to prove his form and mind you, he was not injured. We call a spade, a diamond in this country many a time. Hence, the gap between the real talent and its realisation remains.
(Anil Zankar is a writer, filmmaker, teacher with 30 years of experience. He has taught at Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, and is now Senior professor at Whistling Woods International, Mumbai. He recently served as Jury for the Indian Panorama Section of IFFI, Goa 2010. Anil is also recipient of two National Awards)