Monday, 18 August 2014

What went wrong for India?

Monday, 18 August 2014
Yesterday, the same story repeated itself - once again India put in a dismal batting display, worse than the previous innings. This time, 94 runs were all that could be managed. They also conceded 101 runs in barely twelve overs at the very start of the day's play. It was the show of a team that had given up, and a long way from the side that had made England suffer with a strong batting display at Trent Bridge and humiliated them at Lord's. Though many had expected England to be the eventual winners of the series - home advantage and better bowlers to be the key - nobody had expected it to end quite this way, with India giving such abject batting displays. It left the simple question: what went wrong?

The batting is the obvious reason for the series loss, given that in their last five innings they failed to pass the 200 mark once. Players such as Kohli, Pujara, and Dhawan failed to live up to the hype surrounding them; simply, the new breed of Indian batsmen post-Tendulkar did not deliver. This would partly be due to a lack of experience in English conditions - and having to face a master of swing like James Anderson in them - with any technical flaws being exposed by the swinging and seaming ball. Some batsmen did perform - though Vijay never topped his century in the first innings at Trent Bridge, he showed sticking power on several occasions; Rahane also impressed at times, making a century at Lord's; Dhoni became his team's only form of resistance at times in the past two tests; and there were a few good knocks from the lower order batsmen, particularly at the start of the series. But it wasn't enough. Though the conditions weren't always suited for batting - and England definitely had the better time with the weather in the last two tests - India still didn't put up enough of a fight, and when England really did bowl well they surrendered all too meekly. After seeing the last two tests, just imagine what England could have done if they had bowled to their potential on that first morning at Lord's.

In terms of bowling it went better for India, often being let down by poor fielding or poor umpiring. Kumar looked a bowler well suited to English conditions - though he doesn't bowl at express pace he bowls a good line and length and swings the ball, often enough to make players struggle and especially when they are out of form. Sharma also bowled well - his height and extra pace offering another dimension to the attack. Even if that haul at Lord's was just as much about England's poor technique against the short ball as Sharma's bowling, India's attack looked much better with him a part of it. Beyond those two it was less simple - many were tried but did not do enough; luck was a factor (poor Pankaj Singh), as was being overworked like Aaron. The spinners also didn't make the impact hoped for, even though conditions weren't always helpful. The bowlers should not be criticised too much though - they certainly can't be faulted for trying. The fielding did let them down several times - catches being dropped in the slips more than once; Jadeja's drop of Cook in Southampton perhaps being the most notable. It wasn't good enough, especially from a young team in an age where fielding standards are ever improving.

In fairness to India, they weren't helped at all by the scheduling. Who thought it was a great idea to put five tests in the space of six weeks, I will never know. There were no opportunities for batsmen to have a knock away from the test arena within the series, not enough time for bowlers to rest up in between games. How was Gambhir supposed to come in and make runs straight away when he replaced Dhawan, if he hadn't had any cricket beforehand? It's also a wider issue, with this being a five test series - something England are used to (albeit not necessarily with this group of players), and India are not. Five match series do need more stamina and strength, mentally and physically; something that Indian players were perhaps not fully prepared for without having such experience. Whilst England got stronger, India faded. Perhaps they should play more of the longer format and have less emphasis on the shorter games - but do we really expect that to happen?

Another issue seemed to be team selection - India just couldn't seem to find the right team. The four bowlers or five bowlers conundrum was one that affected them, and sometimes when players were picked it was difficult to see what role they were there for. Binny is an example - picked for the first test, he batted at eight but then bowled only ten overs in England's innings (out of 144.5 total), before then scoring 78 in India's second innings. Again, at Lord's, he bowled only ten in England's 105.5 over innings, and then didn't even get a go in their second; at The Oval he bowled twelve of 116.3. Though he was expensive, that he was used so little begs the question - what was he there for, what was his role? It was similar with Jadeja, looking not quite like a front line spinner, not quite like a front line batsman. Ashwin was probably a better all round player, yet was only picked for the last two matches. I don't know what the best line up is for India - or which one of four or five bowlers is a better route for them - but it didn't look like they did either.

Finally, the whole 'incident' between Anderson and Jadeja. At first, it seemed like India had come off better from the whole affair (whatever exactly happened), with their victory in the second test. But then the saga dragged on and on, instead firing up Anderson and the England team and perhaps taking India's focus away from what really mattered on the pitch. We might never know the true tale of events, but given the results of the hearing it sounds like far too much was made out of an event where it was always going to be difficult to prove that anything really happened - so was it something really worth pushing for?

As an England supporter, it's difficult for me to complain about a series win and the emphatic manner of the three victories. But still, it was disappointing to see India succumb so easily and give up without a fight towards the end. It's hard to tell if this was worse than the whitewash in 2011, though then they did at least make England work for their victories more. India will come back from this - and players like Kohli and Dhawan will in all probability now go and dominate the ODI series to follow - but it was a dismal defeat, and it looks like much will need to be done in order to improve.

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