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A tour of calamitous meltdowns for England

  • England's habit to not learn from mistakes reeks of a malaise that is cancerous and certainly not skin deep.
Hemang Badani
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Feature
Modified 20 Dec 2019, 09:39 IST
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Alastair Cook speaks to the media after stepping down as England Captain at Lord
The series was to be Alastair Cook’s final tour as captain of England

England's tour ended at Bangalore in a crippling whimper after promising much in the first Test match at Rajkot where they nearly pulled the rug from under the feet of India. Had it not been for the dogged tenacity of Virat Kohli, who played a game hitherto alien to his mindset while clawing out a well-scratched draw, India was certain to face defeat.

Was it not for that knock, which shook and fired the sombre Indian dressing room from a potentially shambolic situation, they would have succumbed abjectly to the English attack. That they never looked back was aptly reflected in the Tests at Vizag, Mumbai and Chennai. They batted long and deep and it seemed that the suddenly slumbered lion needed a wake-up call to stir its senses.

It was a clear example of a lesson quickly learned from a near and collective batting failure and the resultant draw was viewed as a positive result. On the contrary, England buried themselves in the quagmire, deepened as it was by its self-doubts and reckless execution of its skill sets. It seemed that in a marathoner’s race in the succeeding Tests, the Englishmen burnt and blew themselves off like a storming pace setter in a hundred meter dash.

Shortlived brilliance

Their seasoned batsmen got in and left the scene with half-baked and muddled efforts, leaving their thin spin cupboard to fight above their weight on flat surfaces, pitted against home-grown giants. Test matches are not three-hour movies. It is a seemingly timeless "tug of war", where the edifying structure is built as if by the “brick by brick“ job of a stonemason.

The caravan often resembled a tumbril, traversed the lengths and breadths, but barring the odd aberration of a win at Kolkata in the third ODI and in the first T20 at Kanpur, England plunged into an abysmal, bottomless pit with decaying inconsistencies hurting them no end.

Momentary bursts of individual brilliance could only take them so far as they never combined forces skilfully or for that matter successfully. That they withered collectively on a symbolic basis on a cricket field was aptly reflected in this tour.

As the English dust themselves off after a laborious tour, it may well be a wearing and long flight. One suspects that the key factor that blighted the men from Old Blighty may well be temperament. Their sporadic bursts of inspired cricket notwithstanding, that they could not convert their talent with maturity was clearly apparent in that they lacked the nous and nerve when it really mattered.

The hosts were ready and waiting

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Cricket is, after all, a subtle game. But when the occasion demands, it must find its hero - akin to a boy in the burning deck, intrepid and phlegmatic, digging deep into the inner reservoir to produce the ammunition to fight. That India clearly found its men for the task on a consistent basis paved the path for Virat Kohli to chalk another series win as a skipper.

He managed to elicit the best responses from his seniors like MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Ashish Nehra in the shortened formats and merged it with the performances of Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja. Least of all, he harnessed the very best from his soulful self across all formats.

He thrived on the game's built-in pressures, soaked and thrived on adrenaline. Controlled aggression was his mantra. He is a "work in progress" with his impulsive, attacking captaincy instincts as he goes for the proverbial jugular in all situations and in all formats. Beneath the raging fire of Virat Kohli lurks an open mind, a big ticker to learn, adapt and grow.

At 28, Virat Kohli has the world at his feet and his side couldn't be any better prepared than they are now in facing the visiting, smarting Aussies, eager to make a mark in this neck of the woods. Almost all his troops barring a cold and a recovering Ajinkya Rahane are ship shape and battle hardened. To have the luxury of a big bench strength, irrespective of formats, has not happened out of an accident but by careful managing of the resources at hand.

That England had their moments is stating the obvious, but given it was bereft of the hard consistent yards, it did not produce them the results they desired and planned. Ill-fated executions plumbed them into hair pulling as the series turned into mind-numbing despair.

Series of calamitous batting meltdowns defined their tour as evidenced in the last day of the tour at Bangalore when a young rookie Yuzvendra Chahal in the company of his senior tutor in Amit Mishra, bowled well in tandem to hasten their doom and gloom. That they did not learn from recent collapses in Mirpur on their tour to Bangladesh and Chennai reeks of a malaise that is cancerous and certainly not skin deep.

It was not as if the decks where they succumbed were Bunsen burners. It was a series of mishaps courtesy poor application and lack of a will to fight. Suicidal lemmings on a cliff may well have been embarrassed pink seeing these sudden bouts of combustive self-destruction by the English.

The victorious Indians forged ability and endurance, merged skill and theatre in volatile situations and above all fought as a tight, well-knit unit, with fit bodies and minds. The hungry English lion seen at Rajkot in the tour opener, on the other hand, grew lame and tame as the tour wore on, hell-bent on self-destruction. The promised fight petered off -pear-shaped - leaving them down and out.

MUMBAI, INDIA - MARCH 31:  Virat Kohli of India bats during the ICC World Twenty20 India 2016 Semi Final match between West Indies and India at Wankhede Stadium on March 31, 2016 in Mumbai, India.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
As an inspired skipper, Virat Kohli was relentless

It was, after all, not India's concern as they had precipitated the preceding occasions with air tight pressure cooker situations. Flaming passion nourished and nurtured precedes vision! Temper at either of the creases is usually fatal unless harnessed and channelised.

Take the innings of Virat Kohli at Vizag and at Mumbai in the Test series or the inspired partnership between two ageing giants viz, MS Dhoni and Yuvraj at Cuttack, or for that matter the sublime counter attack essayed by the hot as hades emerging finisher Kedar Jadhav in Pune as he hunted down the huge target with cunning planning and chutzpah. On all the above occasions the match was on a knife-edge, but the Indians’ propensity to dig deep, staring adversity square in the face, to eventually conquer it shone in corruscating resplendence.

Whereas the visitors huffed and puffed, contended with crafty fifties in Test matches and to upset their apple cart, perished in ugly hacks. It may well be remembered for the way their batsmen abdicated their responsibility when the need was to knuckle and buckle down with old fashioned grit. Alas, unlike 1984/85 or 2012, when their lion hearts camped for bed and breakfast while amassing huge partnerships and totals to bowl the Indians out twice. This time it was only on paper, for the best war room strategies don't yield desired results without effective execution. 

Extra cover: India's team to Bangladesh in 2000: Where are they now?

The biggest lessons the visitors may well have learnt from this cruel game after a gruelling criss-cross of a long tour is that aggression, lest channelled and focussed, leaves them frustrated. Licking their injured wounds, dwelling on the “might have been” scenario can be exasperating and soul destroying. Without summoning control over their talent, an unbridled aggression betrays a calm temperament and is sure to misfire.Their cricket clearly defined such features for on numerous occasions with bat and ball, they allowed India to get out of jail with mediocre application. 

Flat track bullies and high-level bottlers and chokers come unstuck more often than not. And there is no hiding place in international sport. In stark contrast to England, the hosts delivered steely performances. From Karun Nair to KL Rahul and Jayant Yadav to R Ashwin, the performances were a result of thoughtful application of skill sets. The Englishmen were no less proficient in skill, but the measly returns of Cook and company was rendered pedestrian as a result of easy contentment, fuelled by lack of iron-willed application.

Therein lied the clear, yawning gulf between the two sides as the vanquished English were buried thanks to their frail temperament and fickle methods. Under severe duress and faced with the steely determination of India's youth brigade, there was nowhere to run and certainly no place to hide.  

Published 08 Feb 2017, 21:12 IST
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