India vs England: A reality check for the Men in Blue
Some things never change including the Indian team’s losing streak outside the subcontinent. India’s tour of England is an example of that. When India arrived in England this year, a statement was made to the Englishmen -- We are not the team of the past that you have played against; this is the modern-day team with fire in it!
Unfortunately, this fire was extinguished by the British men carried after the first ODI in Nottingham. Henceforth, India lost the One-day series 2-1, a thing that happened for the first time with the King Kohli’s side after an extravagant show in South Africa earlier this year. Thereafter, the faces in the Indian side changed as the tour edged towards the most anticipated phase - The Test Cricket.
To be honest, India’s track record in the longer version of the game in England is not a good one. Be it the humiliation of 2011 of the then World Champions or the humbling of the Champions Trophy holders in 2014, the record is not something that the nation from sub-continent can brag about. Nevertheless, when this Indian sidestepped in England, all these were put to rest as Virat Kohli tagged his team far better than the past Indian teams that have travelled so far.
Bits and pieces but not a collective unit:
Nonetheless, old habits die-hard! The so-called “best Indian team in 15 years” was made to eat the humble-pie again this year by the English side. After consecutive defeats in Birmingham and the Lords, the series defeat was on the cards for the robust Indian squad. Although, India managed to quiet the voices for a while after an exemplary show of character in Nottingham.
But do you win a five Test match series on the back of a single good performance? If that was the case then India should have won the series in 2014 where they dished out a famous victory in the Lords after 28 years.
In Spite of the Trent Bridge performance this year, the clouds became darker and a series defeat became evident after a not so sunny outing in the Ageas Bowl. And sadly, the series was put to bed in the final Test match at the Oval.
Though many will argue the fact that the current Indian team played better than its counterpart and showed more class along with a more competitive set-up than England, yet the question is- Did India cash-in on the key moments of the game? Afraid to say that the answer to this is no!
If this would have been the case then the scoreline of the series would have been different in favour of India. Morse fully, the game is not played on the if’s and but’s and as Sunil Gavaskar says- "We as pundits and players think that this could have happened or that could have happened but to put in simple words, I will say that, if my aunt had a moustache then he would be my uncle.” It is really joyful how he says that but the bitter truth is that India despite having a solid team was not able to deliver as a unit.
Over-dependance on Kohli:
There are a few things that have made all the difference in this particular series. Even though India enjoyed an upper hand in most parts of the series, the over-dependence on Virat Kohli is one of the reasons why they have lost this series.
If Virat Kohli is taken out of the equation, then there are no other batsmen who have performed consistently for the team. You can win a match but not a series on the back of a player. If this was the case then Portugal would have won a FIFA World Cup by now!
“The team has to come out of this Kohli dependance mode if they have to make a fight of it going ahead in foreign conditions. This team has lost in South Africa and England and they should now learn from their mistakes.” - Harbhajan Singh.
Though the performances of Cheteshwar Pujara in Southampton or Pant-Rahul in the fourth innings at the oval or a standing 80 of Ajinkya Rahane in Trent-Bridge were instrumental in shaping the series however if these tits-bits are kept aside, the question that looms over the Indian batting line-up is that- Did the Indian batting line-up fired as a unit? Again the answer to this is no.
As the series progressed this series became more of a contest between King Kohli and the England team with Virat Kohli leading the run-getters chart by more than 150 runs ahead of second-placed Jos Buttler. The player who dramatically failed to perform in 2014 was a warrior of a wounded team in 2018, isn’t it ecstatic?
Coming to the rest of the players, especially Shikhar Dhawan, known for his swaggering Gabbar temperament on the field, looked out of sorts from day one. He has been in and out of the Indian set-up, has a different approach of doing things than other but does his future lies in the white-ball format, where he has done better than the red-ball?
Apart from the third Test match, he never really showed what he is there for! He failed dramatically to negotiate the pace and swing of the English duo of Anderson-Broad. Whenever India got a gettable target, the England bowlers found him as their bunny to start their destruction.
Not only Dhawan but KL Rahul has looked scratchy every time he was on the crease. The middle order never fired. The lower middle order never contributed in a way England’s lower middle order did which was a striking difference as well as the turning point of the series for the two teams. Maybe it's about time for Murli Vijay with the selectors leaving him out of the last two Test matches. Yet the thing that comes to the mind is- What about Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul?
If given a chance they will pounce on the opportunity against a fairly depleted side in the form of West Indies but what about the upcoming tour of Australia where they will be facing the likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, will this solve India’s longstanding opening issue? What is Ajinkya Rahane’s and Cheteshwar Pujara’s future after a series of bad performances both as a batsman and as a fielder?
The Talking point:
The major talking point is the role of the coaching staff. What is Ravi Shastri, Bharat Arun, Sanjay Bangar and R Shridhar doing? More than once the coaching team has tinkered the team combination. It started from the two crucial Test matches in South Africa where Rohit Sharma was given a nod over more technical Ajinkya Rahane. Then it was followed up by leaving Cheteshwar Pujara and spinner out of the equation in Birmingham.
Thereafter, the Yadav exchange happened in the Lords where Umesh Yadav was left out for Kuldeep Yadav that too in seeming conditions. And finally in Southampton, where Ravindra Jadeja did not play alongside Ravi Ashwin who was made to play on one hip. All these situations prove that the management has clearly failed to identify the situations in hand.
“I think he(Jadeja) is an exceptional player in all three departments. I think we would be reasonably happy if he plays only one Test.” England assistant coach Paul Farbrace said on Jadeja’s absence in the team from the first four Test. Clearly, England management knew what he is capable of. With a single chance he got in Oval, he scored 86 and picked up seven wickets which were good enough for the management to realize where they went wrong.
Best or trying to be the best:
Though Virat Kohli feels that this Indian team is the best team in past 15 years but according to Sunil Gavaskar, who says that “For me the best team is Rahul Dravid’s side of 2007 where they defeated England in England and since then no other Indian team has been able to pull such a manoeuvre."
True to that, a team is said to be the best only when it wins not how “competitive” it is! With all these questions and facts looming over the selectors head, it will be pretty interesting to see how the selectors go about their things especially knowing the fact the all-important tour of down-under is due in the next two months.