Melbourne, December 2007. India are crushed by 337 runs. In terms of runs, it was India’s worst defeat in Australia.
Sydney, January 2008. India are beaten by 122 runs against the backdrop of the monkey gate controversy.
Down 0-2 in the four-mach series, India went to Perth and did the unthinkable: they beat Australia to end a record-equalling streak. The fourth Test was drawn, and from the depths of 0-2 and staring at a whitewash, Anil Kumble’s team ended up losing the series 1-2.
Why is this series from over a decade ago being referenced?
Because the current Indian team, led by Virat Kohli, is down two Tests and staring at the distinct possibility of a 5-0 whitewash by England. Yes, there is a vast difference in the qualities of Kumble’s Test squad and Kohli’s. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Wasim Jaffer and MS Dhoni are not Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, KL Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane, Dinesh Karthik.
Like that team, this one has been widely written off, its batting weaknesses glaring and the lack of penetration with the ball proving a hindrance. In Perth all those years back, India found its bowling heroes in the unlikely pair of RP Singh and Irfan Pathan, left-armers alike. The batting did not explode, but fifties to Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman gave the bowlers something to work with.
After that win – which he termed his “best win ever” – Kumble stressed on how the focus for his team after two big losses and the Monkeygate scandal, was to play good cricket and to show their fans and the rest of those watching that they were a good Test unit. Yes, India were determined to win at Perth, but the emphasis was on performing as a team.
It is that line of thinking that Kohli’s team will do well to imbibe. They are chasing the series, of course, but should not think of the scoreline and outcomes. They must win back the confidence of those who are losing faith fast. And for that, they need to put in a performance first.
Cricket has its share of examples of teams rising from the proverbial ashes to script unbelievable wins. Fans of this Indian team must hope that Kohli is passed fit for Trent Bridge in three day’s time, and that the batsmen find the strength to punch well above their weight. There is good news from Nottingham that Jasprit Bumrahis fit for selection, which given the series shoreline and the venue for the third Test could just be the spark this ragged side needs.
Speaking to the press after the Lord’s defeat on Sunday, which was India’s heaviest Test defeat under him, Kohli said that it was the team’s “job and duty” to play for the country. It is, indeed. But so far on tour, barring a couple exceptional performances, these cricketers have turned up to work, punched and slacked off.
The batting, as previously highlighted, has been woeful with the exception of Kohli. Losing both tosses has been a massive factor this series, and it is because of this that India have been playing catch-up from the first ball. They got the toughest conditions of the series to bat on one day two of the Lord’s Test, lost the plot against Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes when the surfaced eased out and in the second innings just fell away to the mountain of runs on the board. If Kohli can somehow manage to win the toss and India get runs on the board early, that could prove the difference at Trent Bridge.
India will hope that the strip is like the one they got four years ago. That Test was a memorable one for Vijay’s 146, twin fifties and a five-wicket haul to Bhuvneshwar Kumar and a match-saving 78 to the debutant, Stuart Binny. They drew the Test and headed to Lord’s on level terms. With Bumrah on board, India’s bowling at Trent Bridge will have a sharper edge. It will be daunting return to Test cricket for Bumrah, who took 14 wickets in three matches in South Africa back in January, but Trent Bridge will suit him well. Taking a cue out of James Anderson’s style of bowling will be critical.
India have selection dilemmas. Vijay’s twin zeroes at Lord’s put him under the scanner, and increase the likelihood of a return for Dhawan. Rahane’s mode of dismissals have been a big alarm, and with Karun Nair in the wings it is not unthinkable that India drop their vice-captain – never mind that in the past it has proven detrimental. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Dinesh Karthik’s awful returns should have the management seriously considering handing Rishabh Pant a Test debut. He has runs in England for India A in four-day cricket and has shown an eagerness to adapt his naturally attacking ways, a fact highlighted by India A coach Rahul Dravid.
This is the second overseas tour in succession in which Kohli’s team has dropped the first two Tests of a series. In South Africa at the start of the year, this meant that the series was lost. They won the dead rubber to make it 2-1 to South Africa. That kind of performance is the need of the hour, if not to at the very least draw the Trent Bridge Test, than to prove to skeptics that this Indian team can stand up and perform overseas. Rather than be drawn on the significance of needing to win, India would be better off looking at performances that get them through session after session, instead of being awful hour after hour.
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