Tuesday 23 August 2011 

Comment: A Mismatch To Be Remembered

Comment: A Mismatch To Be Remembered
Comment: A Mismatch To Be Remembered
© Action Images
 

Billed as the contest of the year, this Test series will instead go down as the biggest anti-climax in the history of cricket, writes Chetan Narula.

There is not a champion side that has taken such a beating as India, just short of leaving them gasping for breath in every match, nay every session. Meanwhile, staking their claim to be the best side in the world never saw such direct approach - trouncing the top rank pretenders with a 4-0 whitewash.

To say that MS Dhoni’s team were pretending to be the number one Test side is a bit harsh, although the statement is both true and false. The scoreline tells the obvious truth. However, climbing atop the rankings with such a pale bowling attack is what makes the whole thing a fallacy. When the going was good, the Indian batting might exerted itself against Australia, South Africa, England and Sri Lanka, both home and away. And the same wiry bowlers made taking 20 wickets seem a routine job for them.

It is a wonder how things unravelled with such consistency in just this one series. When was the last time Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman missed out for so long, so much so the others couldn’t fathom putting up any resistance themselves?

Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma bowled their hearts out, but India missing a wicket-taking spinner is an odd aberration to say the least.

It made the attack toothless at best and that is a recipe for disaster. Injuries completed the misery, with their first choice settled pair half-fit when playing. There are times when a captain can make his team look good, surely Dhoni has done so on many occasions. But even his Midas touch deserted him, bringing forth the adage – a captain is only as good as his team.

And taking everything in summation, India were poor and definitely so. The last time they were so comprehensively beaten was in 1999, when Australia romped home 3-0. The similarities from back then are revealing. Only one batsman made any sort of impact on the Aussies, Tendulkar doing what Rahul Dravid did in England.

The fast bowlers were medium pace at best, Venkatesh Prasad and Ajit Agarkar come to mind therein. Anil Kumble bowled bravely, but away from home he wasn’t as distinguished then as he was at the time of his retirement, and the attack as a whole was spineless. The only contrast being the end of that decade marked a turn-around for India, giving hope for much the same this time around.

Yes it is time to work on a whole lot of issues. Preparation was by no means enough for a contest this important, and it doesn’t just include match fitness. Physical fitness, mental freshness and ample bench strength are all part of this one term.

It is very easy to lay all blame at the doors of the BCCI and make no mistake they should get the majority of it. But the players themselves need to step up and be able to make tough choices, like not playing the IPL when you know an aggravated shoulder injury will put you out of action for nearly eight weeks. Naming them or listing down a ten-point program isn’t going to help anyone, for those to blame know who they are.

Yet, if a timely leaf is taken out of this miserable lesson India have been taught, there is no harm in it. Compared to 1999, they have a blueprint readily available at disposal. It is just the willpower that needs to be exercised now, like it was done back then.

The other memory from that eventful turn of the century was of course Australia’s ascendancy to supremacy. And perhaps England will want us to believe that in this huge, crushing victory is their first step to world domination of their own. The signs are ominous yes. They have a well-placed leader in Andrew Strauss. That he will step out for five months and then return to lead the side against Pakistan in the winter shows belief is strong in the leadership.

The batting is clicking and being given new direction with every innings, be it Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott or even Kevin Pietersen, who seems to have found new inspiration. Matt Prior’s rise with both the bat and gloves has been prominent, indicating confidence is high in this bunch of players.

Perhaps their only open spot in the eleven is that of number six. Eoin Morgan hasn’t done enough to cement it just yet, but another way of looking at it is from Tim Bresnan’s point of view. Surely, as their third line of attack after James Anderson/Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad, he has maimed the Indians to such an extent that he can easily fit in as the all-rounder all champion sides boast of.

Whenever the need to play five bowlers arises, and it surely will in the sub-continent, England won’t have to think long and hard. Yes, sterner challenges will come ahead as India found out to their miserable fortune, but Strauss and company can look up with greater confidence than their predecessors.

That word fortune doesn’t favour the brave anymore. Instead it helps those who plan well ahead, hedge all risks and set greed aside, for modern-day cricket demands all this and more. It sets one thinking, what if India had done all of that?

Maybe Zaheer wouldn’t have been injured in the first Test, maybe Bhajji would have bowled with venom and maybe the batting - free from injuries and rookies - would have clicked. Maybe then, this series would have been as iconic as it was presumed to be. That question will equally haunt cricket lovers, joyous, depressed and neutrals, all around.

© Cricket World 2011