Indian test team From Sublime To Ridicule
From Heroes to Zeroes that is how multimillionaire Indian cricketers are being described as after their humiliating surrender to the determined, focused and not so rich British rivals. The richest cricket team in the globe, India went to England on a 77-day long tour as World Number one test team but lost the crown in the third week of the tour ironically when most of Britain was engulfed in riots, which most analysts have described as the wrath of the deprived section of the society.
India had become World No. 1 test team in country’s maximum city Mumbai on December 6, 2009. And lost that crown in just over 20 months in middle class city of Birmingham on August 14, 2011 when they suffered their third biggest defeat ever in Test history—by an innings and 242 runs, and their biggest in more than 37 years. Before this Indians had lost the first test by 196 runs at Lords and second test by 319 runs at Nottingham. Now all hell broke loose, the players who were being treated as demigods and showered with unaccounted money are now being ridiculed and abused. The critics while writing obituary of the present Indian test team have come out with the weirdest reasons for the team’s dismal performance. Suddenly everybody is unanimous that Indian team came to England without any preparation. They also cite the lack of match practice before the start of this tough tour and some even point out that the visitors were not a fully fit unit. All these points are valid but surprisingly these are being pointed out after the humiliation. The fact is that before the start of the tour, the buzz was not about preparation or lack of it or even of just playing a two-day practice match but it was about the 100th International century of Sachin Tendulkar.
The same critics, who are now thrashing the team, were wondering whether Sachin, who had not even scored a half century at Lords before the start of this series, will achieve this land mark in the first or the second inning. They were also thinking aloud about other two Greats—VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid—whether they will be able to break the jinx by scoring a century respectively on this hallowed turf of the Lords. There was also a sense of concern for the home side’s bowling department because experts felt that they would find it difficult to deal with the much vaunted Indian batting line up, so what if Virender Sehwag was not there for the first two tests. So overconfident were the ‘experts’ that they were also worried about England batting, as how the hosts would be able to face Zaheer Khan on a rampage or the guiles of Harbhajan Singh (both of whom were unfit and injured, but the writers were blissfully ignorant of that). As far as lack of preparation was concerned, the riposte was to get your cricket correct. The Indians are thoroughly professionals, after all they are not earning—billions for nothing, they are playing cricket 24×7 and do you think Sachin, Dravid, Laxman, Harbhajan together played more test than the whole England team put together need any acclimatisation. Just see their record and then talk of preparations.
What about fitness-the response was equally swift-the players know what they are doing, cricket is the reason for their rags to riches and they are well aware of the need to be fit. About the England side—well they just managed to beat Sri Lanka narrowly, that too because of the amateurish display by the Islanders in the first test otherwise the Pomes could not get them out in the third test. Their bowlers looked very ordinary. And mind you, these experts were not only Indians but majority of them were English men, Australians and non-resident Pakistani based in India Wasim Akram. Steeled with these arguments and hyped by the rich NRIs who filled the Lords and assured the ECB of more than two million pound profit from this series, Indians trooped into the Mecca of Cricket supremely confident of inflicting another defeat on their former colonial masters but were surprised by the ferocity of their rivals and when they came back, they were bruised and battered.
The critics were stunned as were the Indians, suddenly their (critics) closed ranks began to show signs of cracks with few raising their feeble voices saying may be after all Indians are not as invincible as they are made out to be. But given the financial clout of the Indian board (Cricket) they were hesitant to point out the grey areas of the visiting. Or one can say that there was none to say that Emperor had no clothes. Come the second test, Indians collapse like a pack of cards and lo and behold, it looked as there was a stampede, everybody wanted to get out alive to debunk the World Number one team. The batting we were told was dismal, bowling nonexistent and fielding less said the better. The defeat also exposed the fitness level of the top players. Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan were ruled out for the rest of the series because of the injuries and most interesting part was that hugely paid national selectors headed by K Srikkanth were not aware of their conditions and selected them for the ODI. This cannot get more ridiculous than what it already is. Why Zaheer or Harbhajan did not tell the selectors about their fitness problems is a matter of speculation. But in given scenario when each match fetches a player millions, nobody wants to opt out. And this state of affairs has been created by none other than BCCI.
ENGLAND’S CLIMB TO THE SUMMIT
England has become the world No1 test team dethroning India. Following statistics show their domination over India in the series so far: The third test margin of victory—an innings and 242 runs—is England’s fifth-biggest in all Tests, and their second-best against India. Their biggest win was against Australia way back in 1938, by an innings and 579 runs, but three of their five largest victories have come since 2005.
For India, this was their third-biggest defeat ever in Test history, and their biggest in more than 37 years. It’s also their second-biggest loss to England, next only to their innings-and-285-runs drubbing at Lord’s in 1974. England’s win makes them the best Test team in the world according to the ICC rankings. Since the beginning of May 2009 they’ve won 19 Tests and lost 4, a win-loss ratio of 4.75; India have won 11 and lost 6, a ratio of 1.83. During this period, their batsmen have averaged 40.14, with 38 centuries in 30 Tests. Only South Africa have a higher average. Their bowling average of 28.94, though, is clearly the best. The top three wicket-takers during this period have all been England bowlers.
India’s defeat ends a fine spell in which they went without a series defeat in 11 attempts—their last series loss was in Sri Lanka in 2008. It’s also the first series defeat for MS Dhoni, whose captaincy numbers have slipped to 15 wins and six defeats in 30 Tests. India’s overall average partnership in this series so far has been 24.35, compared to England’s 54.09. They’ve had one century partnership to England’s nine. In six innings India haven’t once faced 100 overs; in fact, they’ve gone downhill over these three Tests—95.5 and 96.3 at Lord’s, 91.4 and 47.4 at Trent Bridge, and 62.2 and 55.3 at Edgbaston.
India’s average stand for the top six wickets in this series has been 27.27. Among series in which there have been at least 30 partnerships for the first six wickets, this is their second-poorest since 1995. It’s slightly poorer than their effort in Australia in 1999-2000, which was the last time they lost three Tests in a series. The one comfort for Dhoni was his own batting form—it was the fourth time he topped 50 in both innings of a Test, but the first such instance in more than two years.
The Indian critics ran down MS Dhoni and his boys saying “This team never deserved to be a number one—we were told—they never won a series in South Africa or England, most of their victories have come at home and wins were against the minions like West Indies, Bangladesh or New Zealand.” Some even dubbed Indian number one ranking as statistical wonder and wonders do not last long. One of India’s most successful captain Sourav Ganguly lamented the performances saying he has not seen the side like this in the last 10 years. “I agree (with the criticism), and let us accept we were very ordinary. I have not seen an Indian team like this in the last 10 years,” Ganguly vented his pent up frustration on BBC. He was of the opinion that it was the lack of preparation which has resulted in India’s dismal performance in the series. “You cannot just turn up and win Test series against good sides, Test cricket matters to us. You can lose Test matches but losing three in a row and not scoring any big total, it is something to be worried about. Is it a one-off affair or the beginning of the demise of the side we have to see,” he said.
On the other hand new coach Duncan Fletcher claimed his struggling batsmen were victims of the conditions. “Our guys are finding it difficult at the moment to handle the swing and seam,” he said. In this situation there are saner voices that are against any witch haunt but want that planning to rebuild the test team should start right earnest. Former captain Anil Kumble was candid enough to say that India now need to groom four or five young players to replace veterans like Sachin, Dravid and Laxman. “You need to spot four-five players and invest on them, to ensure that they carry the responsibility of Indian cricket in future in place of the veterans. We have Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir,” Kumble said. Former opener Arun Lal was very scathing in his attack saying the country cannot rely on the 35-plus cricketers for long.
On the other hand British media and former players went ecstatic. Former Skipper Nasir Hussain even questioned the Indian team’s commitment while Micheal Vaughan said visitors have done no good to their reputation. The daily Telegraph rubbed into Indian wounds: “Virender Sehwag’s successive ducks was reassuring evidence of cricket’s justice system. Requiring a shoulder operation he played 11 IPL matches first, even waiting to see if his Delhi Daredevils team made it to the semi-finals before undergoing surgery.” Daily Telegraph pointedly blamed IPL for India’s downfall saying: “The IPL deprives India’s cricketers of an off-season. If they have niggling injuries they have to look elsewhere for a break, because it is all-important, both financially and politically. It clearly took Zaheer to the brink physically. India simply had to gamble on his fitness in the first Test, because he is central to their success. It failed miserbly. But it deserved to.”
The most damning indictment of Indian side came from the Independent: “Of the eight wins England has achieved in their past 12 Tests, six have been by an innings. It has been the stuff of champions, the stuff dreams are made on.”
By Harpal Singh Bedi