Amid the gloom, Suresh Raina's assured innings in a crisis situation on Day 5, and against a quality attack, augurs well for the future of Indian cricket © Getty Images
Amid the gloom, Suresh Raina’s assured innings in a crisis situation on Day 5, and against a quality attack, augurs well for the future of Indian cricket © Getty Images

 

By H Natarajan

 

“When one door closes, another opens. But we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” — Helen Keller

 

A teary eye cannot help in a clear vision. As the dust settles down at Lord’s, Indian cricket fans on social media platforms have expectedly gone into an overdrive with their chest-beating and berating the Indian cricket team’s performance against England. There cannot be any arguments that what matters in the end is the final result and fans have a legitimate reason to be upset about the defeat in the first Test.

 

But if a holistic and unemotional view is taken of the match, Indian cricket fans would derive satisfaction from the enormous gains from a losing Test.

 

For me, the biggest plus was the performances of Generation Next. The biggest impact came from Suresh Raina, who played what was arguably the most important innings of his fledgling career. Here is a player whose technique against high-quality pace and bounce at Test match level was always questionable. Even after getting half-centuries in each of the three Tests in the Caribbean, it was felt that he would be exposed against the highly-professional and incisive English attack in helpful home conditions. But Raina’s match temperament in a crisis situation and the assurance with which he batted by curbing his natural aggression was heart-warming. Had he gone on to bat a little longer and saved the Test, his innings would have been scripted among the epics and he would, in all likelihood, have got the man of the match award, ahead of double tonner Kevin Pietersen.

 

The superfluous and ungainly movement that one saw in the West Indies was gone. He was rock-solid in defence and offered the full face of the bat. And he played some stunning cover-drives that were reminiscent of Sourav Ganguly at his pomp. That’s high praise because Ganguly was anointed as the “God of the off-side” by Rahul Dravid. Raina and Indian cricket will benefit hugely from this innings.

 

Unlike many of his illustrious peers in the India second innings, Raina didn’t fritter away his wicket. He got out to what was arguably the best ball of the match — truly unplayable, as the ball from James Anderson pitched on centimeter-perfect length. It was the kiss of death, as the ball move just enough to take the edge of Raina’s defensive answer and into Matt Prior gloves.

 

Another youngster who impressed with his temperament was Abhinav Mukund. As long as he was there in the middle in the first innings, he looked assured and impressive for a 21-year-old playing in just his fourth Test match. Had he controlled his enthusiasm to get the one run for his second fifty in Test cricket and not inner-edged a widish ball on to his stumps, he could have gone on to a bigger score and make a bigger impact. But even in the tenure he batted in the first innings, he served notice that he is one for the future.

 

Zaheer Khan’s value to the Indian attack is far greater than Sachin Tendulkar’s batting to the Indian line-up. While Tendulkar has several world class support, Zaheer is the long ranger on whom the Indian attack and hopes revolve. When he walked away on Day One with a hamstring injury, India were fighting an unequal battle in the Test. The risk of going into a Test match with four specialist bowlers and no all-rounders to back-up was exposed big time.

 

This is where the two more Generation Next players raised their hands and their game. Praveen Kumar’s five-for in the first innings was a testimony to his swing bowling against batsmen who have honed their skills against this variety since they first picked up their cricket bats. And Ishant Sharma reproduced his lethal form he showed in the West Indies by scalping Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott within the space of 16 balls in a sensational pre-lunch spell. “The Terminator” is back! And that’s awesome news for a team that is in dire need of quality bowlers.

 

Rahul Dravid added another classy chapter to his magnificent career. The man has never got his rightful due. And as the insightful Vincent Sunder wrote in his column, “it was a day when the complete attention of the majority of Indian cricket followers and the Indian media was fixated on whether Sachin Tendulkar would get his 100th international hundred. That another Indian batting great required just 50 runs to become the second highest run-getter in the history of the game found no mention whatsoever in any quarters.”

 

Dravid’s second Test match hundred in four Tests have shut carping critics who pick on his age. It was a typical Dravid innings — standing tall in crisis. His unconquered 103 helped India avert the follow-on. And as he and Laxman came undefeated at the end of the fourth day’s play, there were high expectations of another epic from these maestros of crisis management. Sadly, that was not to be as both fell to uncharacteristically loose shots. But before he got out, Dravid went unnoticed — no surprises there — as the highest fourth innings run-getter in Test match history.

 

Even If the end result was disappointing, there were moments of joy for most of the Indian players. Almost all the batsmen had at least one good outing. Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar did not have much joy in terms of runs in either innings, but both of them stayed at the wicket for well over an hour in both outings. Though Lord’s continue to haunt him, Tendulkar looked in good touch. Had he not got into a sudden defensive mindset in the second innings, he could well have gone on to play a meaningful fourth innings that could have well helped India save the game.

 

The two biggest disappointments of the Test were Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh. As a captain, some of Dhoni’s moves were bewildering. For example, his failure to bring on a rampaging Ishant Sharma immediately after lunch on the fourth day. As a captain, the onus is on him to get his bowler to do what’s best for the team, even if the bowler is reluctant. As a ‘keeper, he was consistently taking delivieries at ankle level, which showed that he was not in the right position. As a batsman, he failed to show the aggression he is known for and failed in both innings.

 

But the biggest failure of the match was Harbhajan. Match figures of one for 218 is a continuation of his decline and fall that started a year back. India go into a Test match with four bowlers. When Zaheer limped off with a hamstring injury on Day One, the attack was reduced to three. But the fact is that the team management’s refusal to see Harbhajan’s sharp decline meant that India played the major part of the Lord’s Test with just two bowlers — Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma! That Dhoni was forced to remove his pads and come on to bowl showed the misery of the Indian team. As long as India fails to accept that Harbhajan is not good enough to be in the team on present form, the side will continue to be in trouble. With Zaheer likely to miss the second Test, its better to play both Shantakumar Sreesanth and Munaf Patel in the seaming conditions of Trent Bridge. If not, they should play Sreesanth and Amit Mishra.

 

I’m optimistic about this Indian team, but tough decisions would have to be taken. Harbhajan has to be out. His presence is clearly upsetting the team’s balance. He scored zero and 12 in the Test, but what was most appalling is that for a guy who has played 97 Tests, scored and two hundreds, he was playing shots on the fifth day that can only be justified in the slog-phase of a T20 game and not when a side is trying to save a Test. That itself is good enough to invite censure. Harbhajan needs to sit out. He has to be made to earn his place in the side.

 

(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at facebook/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at twitter/hnatarajan)