By Rohan Kallicharan
It is no easy task for the scribes to pick the bones out of another feeble Indian display, this time at The Oval where the team lost their last seven wickets for a mere 21 runs and collapsed to another heavy defeat at the hands of England.
There are only so many times that you can regurgitate the same adjectives – spineless and feeble come to mind; remember that this is coming from someone who has watched the West Indies make a habit of such batting debacles.
Make no mistake, England are the best Test match side in the world. And they were before the series began, regardless of what the rankings may have said. The warning signs have been there for India as far back as the 2010 home series against New Zealand. India may have won the Test series 1-0, but cracks appeared wider than any found on the fifth day pitch at The Kia Oval.
If we look at the batting averages, Virender Sehwag averaged 99.50, but this in a three-match rubber was based around a single big score of 173. Rahul Dravid was consistently brilliant, but there again, he has continued to be during this series. More concerning was Sachin Tendulkar averaging 31.50, and himself, Gautam Gambhir and VVS Laxman failing to score a century between them against a distinctly average attack in home conditions. It cannot be a good thing for any side to rely on Harbhajan Singh to top the batting averages with two centuries.
More pointedly for Harbhajan, was a return of 10 wickets at 42 in the series, one in which Zaheer Khan was outstanding and Ishant Sharma came in for one Test and took seven wickets. Quite simply, the statistics did not befit a side ranked No 1 in the world, and it also displayed a worrying lack of depth.
Fast forward to South Africa in December 2010-January 2011, and a similarly worrying trend repeats itself. Tendulkar returned to form with two centuries – the only century maker in the three-Test series for India, a side that is considered as the strongest in the world. With the ball, Zaheer was again outstanding, this time ably supported by Harbhajan, but with Sreesanth and Sharma averaging over 40 runs per wicket each.
Meanwhile, England won the Ashes with nine centuries contributed by six batsmen, and four bowlers taking 14 or more wickets, with another in Tim Bresnan taking 11 in two outings. The simple fact of the matter is that India were never anybody’s favourites for this series on base cricketing terms alone.
When you factor in fatigue and a shameful lack of preparation, nobody should be surprised at the conclusive nature of England’s series triumph. In top class cricket, matches are decided by the smallest margins, and India simply added to margins that were already there to the naked eye.
Admittedly, injuries have hindered the tourists badly. If they were to win, each and every of their ‘big guns’ had to fire. Zaheer broke down on the first day, Harbhajan was never fit, although recent form suggests that he was never going to be a factor in the series.
In the batting department, Sehwag missed the start of the series, and like Harbhajan was - in my opinion - unfit during the games that he played. Yuvraj Singh, likewise, got injured. Although people will argue that he would have struggled against the short pitched ball, he did score an impressive 62 in the first innings at Trent Bridge. Gambhir missed Trent Bridge and batted injured once at Lord’s and twice at The Oval, and Tendulkar himself had to bat down the order due to illness in the second innings at Lord’s.
That is an alarming and destabilising catalogue of misfortune in anyone’s book, and England took full advantage. Statistics do not lie, however, and echo with those from the South Africa and New Zealand series already discussed. Take the phenomenal effort of Rahul Dravid away, with three centuries and a series average of 76.83, you have the following over four matches and eight completed innings:
· 9 fifties, 0 hundreds
· 4 players averaging over 30 runs per innings
· Ishant and Sreesanth replacing their 40+ bowling averages in South Africa with 58 and 61 respectively
· Just in case anyone forgets he was there, Harbhajan with two wickets at 143.50
· 7 English batsmen with averages over 50; 7 hundreds and 11 fifties
People will have different opinion as to why India were so poor, and again I would not want to take any credit away from what is an excellent and ruthless England side. I do have a theory, but you will have to wait until next week for that!
This was one of the most-eagerly anticipated Test series in many years, and it turned into the dampest of squibs. Test cricket remains the ultimate form of the game, and the BCCI would do well to remember that as it prepares its team for future tours.
It would also do well to reassess its stance towards the DRS. India were at the wrong end of some dreadful umpiring decisions on this tour, but had they not been so arrogant in their refusal to allow the review of lbw decisions, it may not have been so bad. Either way, it would not have prevented the 0-4 scoreline, so huge was the gap between these teams in terms of both skill and attitude.
(Rohan Kallicharan, son of the legendary batsman Alvin Kallicharan, is a West Indian cricket enthusiast based in the UK who played at under-19 level. He is now a Recruitment Professional who writes about the game in his free time. He is a columnist for All Out Cricket Magazine. He also has own sports’ blog)