By Vincent Sunder
It is a crucial Test. Not just from a perspective of the end result of the series that is under way. Pride aside from not stopping a one-sided series, at stake is also not allowing a buoyant opposition drive the proverbial final nail that would dethrone India as the numero uno of Test playing nations.
Though the scores reflect a complete domination in the results of the first two Tests completed hitherto, India have not been completely outplayed. At Trent Bridge they had the opposition on the mat, with eight wickets back in the hut after the luncheon interval. Zaheer Khan, India’s key strike bowler, hobbled away with a hamstring in the first Test at Lord’s, but the inexperienced bowling attack, with an off-spinner of repute injured where it hurts a lot – in the stomach – had posed a challenge. The challenge, albeit, was for a short while as the English innings was resurrected well enough to move towards a commanding position.
India was also hamstrung with their premier batsman struggling to stamp his authority with the runs expected of his blazing blade. Rahul Dravid battled but couldn’t quite be the David against Goliath, and VVS Laxman flattered to deceive. There was pretty little anything nice to write home.
Virender Sehwag had been missing, Gautam Gambhir was lost to injury, an inexperienced young opener was battling, a disrupted batting order – there were many justifications for the batting not having made a mark hitherto. But hope was eternal, as the riots didn’t come in the way of the third Test getting under way at Birmingham. Notwithstanding the fact that the famed opening pair had virtually no long haul cricket with their pads on, for months, hope was still in the air. After all this was a game where an innings of great quality or a dominating partnership can change the course a game as would a spell of incisive bowling can.
The first ball dismissal of Sehwag was perhaps an indicator of how much India is against the rub of the green. As the Gambhir/Dravid partnership progressed fluently it appeared that India were finally making a good fist of the situation. The quick dismissals of Gambhir, Tendulkar and Dravid before the English could taste ‘prime rib’ on the lunch plate didn’t quite stop them from going for the rib-cage of a hopping Suresh Raina, post lunch. When Laxman, very uncharacteristically yet again, pulled himself back to the pavilion after the shortest of gems, India were looking down the barrel.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni is like an exciting Diwali cracker. Exhilarating - when the burst is on. The joy of a cracker, however, is short-lived. Test cricket needs grinding the opposition into dust; not trying to blast it away. Unless you are an Ian Botham of 1981 at Headingley or a Kapil Dev of 1983 at Tunbridge Wells, capable of blasting away incessantly and without an end. Not to take anything away from what Dhoni is capable of doing best, but it only lasted long enough for him to post a score of some semblance in Year 2010. All along it appeared to be a matter of time before the enjoyable cracker blast ran out.
If indeed the show of a semblance of character and fight had given rise to hope yet again, it didn’t last beyond a few tight overs when India bowled and England found runs hard to come. It, however, turned out to be the proverbial calm before the storm. England had 13 fours off 25 overs at the end of the day to be placed at a comfortable 84 runs without any loss.
As Day Two beckons, the focus and the ‘clichéd’ talk will be on the first hour of play and the wickets that India needs. The day of reckoning will dawn and more than the result of the day/game, what will be put to a bigger Test will be the attitude and approach of a team that has lost more sessions in this Test series than what it’s most pessimistic follower would have wagered on!
(Vincent Sunder aspired to play Test cricket, but had to struggle to play ‘gully’ cricket! He managed a league side to title triumph in the KSCA tournaments. He was debarred from umpiring in the gully games after he once appealed vociferously for a caught-behind decision when officiating as an umpire! After two decades in the corporate sector, he became an entrepreneur with the objective of being able to see cricket matches on working days as well. Vincent gets his ‘high’ from cricket books and cricket videos and discussing cricket)