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When the English were annihilated

India v Sri Lanka - 2011 ICC World Cup Final

MUMBAI, INDIA – APRIL 02: Anil Kumble (L) ex Indian captain and Sachin Tendulkar (R)hold the World Cup trophy after their six wicket win during the 2011 ICC World Cup Final between India and Sri Lanka at Wankhede Stadium on April 2, 2011 in Mumbai, India.

The situation wasn’t the same but quite similar then. India has had a horrific year or so in the past. The Test series in Australia was lost 4-0 and the only test playing nation they defeated in the World Cup was Pakistan. India almost ended up following on in Zimbabwe’s debut test match, and the Test series in South Africa was lost 1-0 and the ODI series 5-2.

The ever so strong Indian team on paper had once again tasted the bitter truth.

Questions were being raised about quality of the team: poor selection, poor management and the BCCI’s vision for Indian cricket.

Public opinion was that the BCCI wasn’t really bothered about Indian cricket. On the other hand, England, who were slated to tour India within a month had sent one of the senior members of England’s support staff to Johannesburg to watch the Test match and spy on India’s performers and their performances. On the only shining light for India in Johannesburg, a leg spinner who took six wickets in South Africa’s second innings. His assessment about the leg spinner can be counted as one of the worst in the history of cricket.

Anil Kumble never believed in turning the ball – he believed in tormenting the batsmen and that’s what he did in the next series and subsequent years.

Mohammed Azharuddin’s performance as a batsman had gone from bad to worse in the last year and a half. He was sure to lose his captaincy, if not his place in the side as well. Yet the selectors, with no real options as a captain to replace him, decided to give him one more chance for the first test in the series. His bashers were over the moon and had almost declared that the next test was going to be his last, at least as a captain. They had missed one important point though.

The most important one.

Azhar was going to play his last test in Eden – a ground where he could have put gallons of petrol on himself, jumped in a fire and yet walked out of it totally unhurt.

The first day of the first test in Eden is known for Azhar’s second career-saving century in 4 years – the first came in Faisalabad in Pakistan when he played just because someone else wasn’t fit enough, and saved his career. It was a typical Azhar innings – elegant, classy and full of wrists.

Yet a score of 371 looked like too small for the opponents who had some good names. The last time India and England had met, Graham Gooch had scored a triple hundred, two more hundreds and two fifties in a three-match series. Mike Gatting was supposedly known as murderer of spinners in England. Graeme Hick was better than Don Bradman in county cricket and Robin Smith was extremely talented. England batted till number eight – Lewis was an excellent all rounder.

But England was in for a shock – a big one.

Ajit Wadekar and Azhar had unearthed an excellent plan to dominate test cricket on Indian soil. With two genuine all rounders in the side, they played three specialist spinners. If England could throw Lord’s at us, if Australia could make us hop and jump in Perth and if South Africa could bounce us out in Durban, there was nothing wrong in returning the favor.

Once England’s age old theory of “sweep anything that a spinner bowls” was crushed by Rajesh Chauhan’s off spin, Raju’s leg spin and Kumble’s leg spin, in England’s first innings in Eden, the series became a formality with India winning 3-0. England didn’t even put up a fight – like we didn’t last year. There were a few sparks of brilliance, like Lewis’s century in the second test or Hick’s magnificent 178 in Wankhede, but it stopped at that.

Instead of introspecting, England looked more interested in finding the most bizarre excuses – from small beds in hotel rooms to Taj, Chennai serving stale prawns, from sub standard pitches to too much noise made by the crowd, from Indian weather to the breeze in Chepauk which carried the stink of a drainage system passing nearby the stadium.

Truth be told, they were no match for us in that series. They didn’t even put up a fight.

Success shows us many stars. Vinod Kambli announced himself to Test cricket, India’s spin trio was being compared to the quartet of the 70s. With Kambli, Sachin and Amre scoring doing the deeds in the Indian middle order, Ramakant Achrekar could’ve easily been declared batting coach of the side. Suddenly, the team which couldn’t win anything began to appear invincible.

With what happened on 6th December 1992 and its aftermath did provide a bit of euphoria. With a proper Test series outside subcontinent being three years away, the 3-0 win over England did give us the belief of having a winning formula – play three spinners, play on turning tracks and let the rest happen. In turn it made us believe we were really that good, especially when India’s next proper test series, outside the subcontinent, didn’t happen for next three years.

Well, we are not very different now. Not many years have been as bad as last year – our last two trips outside the subcontinent have been horrendous. But we will not be playing outside the subcontinent till the end of next year. On top of that England are coming.

Rather it has already come when like in 1992, several Indian cricketers were returning from South Africa.

Do we dish out square turners or be stupidly brave enough to give them “sporting pitches”. But there is one major difference between 1993 and 2012. We could have blindly given them dustbowls with knowledge that our batsmen could play spin with hands tied at their back. This time, there is no assurance about our own batting, though.

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