India vs. England: A gloomy forecast to Trent Bridge
India’s performance at Lords was not one deserving of so much criticism as is being leveled against them. This is probably so because of the world number 1 ranking that they bear and thus are challenged to justify at every moment. India are the world champions by virtue of their constantly improving performances overseas complemented by the dominating force they are in home conditions. There is no other team in world cricket presently that held complete sway home and away. At the same time, I am not calling upon the Indian team from shying away from the challenge. The crucial point is that a team cannot be judged on the basis of one performance.
Given the bashing they have received from the world media, things would seem to be very bleak for the side away from the comfort of home. This two month long tour has come straight after the series in West Indies and after the massacre of Lords, only gloom seems to await them.
The murkiness is so tangible, that you can cut it with a knife. So firstly, a cutting a ray of hope for the Indian side would be the fact that even in the previous tours of 2007, 2002 and 1996, we have seen the Indian batting line-up improve with every Test. This Indian batting line-up was not short of application in the first Test but broke down at the wrong moments. Sachin Tendulkar looked good in the first innings, Laxman got starts in both the innings and fell to two irresponsible strokes. Rahul Dravid’s stay on the wicket was of such duration that only rarely has India ended on the wrong side. Suresh Raina was adequate to the challenge in the second innings inspite of his relative inexperience in such conditions.
To point out singularly, what deterred India is not difficult. Losing your premier bowler on the very first day of a Test match leaves any side psychologically deprived. And it is likely to have a wide-ranging consequence spanning the whole series. I wonder if England would have stood up to the task had a similar ill-fortune over-taken them.
India’s bowling performance was not up-to the mark as they failed to get 10 wickets in either of the innings. This would be the question to be answered over the period of the next two months. Can India take 20 wickets with their bowling line-up? We can find some answers from the performance at Lords.
Harbhajan Singh did not look like a bowler with 400 wickets and that has been the case for quite a while now. He bowled the wrong line and length in the first innings. There is little rationale available to explain his bowling from around the wicket to right-handed batsman for most part of the innings. He was not helped by the defensive fields given to him by Mahendra Singh Dhoni as well. The slight change in his attitude in the second innings can be attributed to more close-in fielders. Moreover, a wicket early on in the second innings helped him gain a bit of confidence. However, you front-line spinner cannot be so low on self-confidence as was visible at Lords. If India is to win a Test match in this series, we need at least 6 wickets in the match from the spinner.
Critics have rightly put a question mark over his selection in the side as well. Amit Mishra is waiting in the ranks and has the confidence of the pundits worldwide. England are traditionally bad-players of leg-spin and he might turn out to be the stimulus India needs. However, it is difficult to see him play that role at Trent Bridge. He will be more useful at the Oval and at Birmigham. His selection will depend on various factors such as the conditions, Harbhajan’s performance at Trent Bridge and India’s willingness to play two spinners.
Zaheer’s injury and Ishant Sharma’s toothless performance in the first innings emerge out of two contrasting issues. Zaheer was surely not prepared for a hasty comeback to Test cricket as he was not a part of the squad in the West Indies. On the other hand, Ishant Sharma seemed to be suffering from fatigue. He bowled a lot in the West Indies and coming straight to England for another 4 match series will be straining. India cannot afford to rotate their bowlers unlike England and this is certainly not how you preserve a young bowler. We must not make Ishant another case of burnout following the suicide of Irfan Pathan.
Meanwhile, Sreesanth seems to be the only way out of this crisis for the Indian team. Munaf Patel is another option but he is unlikely to play given the presence of a military medium fast bowler in Praveen Kumar. Sreesanth is as eccentric a character as you can put on a cricket field. The risk is of a different nature if he plays. We have often seen him lose his temper in hostile conditions and he lacks the necessary patience requisite in a Test match bowler. In addition to that he would be a bit under-cooked as well since he missed the tour of the West Indies.
India will miss a left-handed pace-man in their side for sure at Trent Bridge. The English openers are vulnerable to left handed medium pace as has been seen in the first Test and in the series against Sri Lanka. In that context, the Indian selectors are busy finding a possible reinforcement for the squad given the possibility of another injury.