The much talked about test series between England and India has sadly turned out to be one sided so far. The highly acclaimed Indian batting appears to struggle and have come a cropper in the hands of the English seamers and with two tests played, the margin stands at two nil in favour of the hosts.
A highly unlikely scenario when the Indians landed, as most people felt that the series will be closely contested and the final margin razor thin. I may be speaking a bit too soon considering that there are still two test matches to go. But history indicates the uphill task a team encounters to come back when two down and just two to go! At best India could only hope for a drawn series from here, which should be a terrific result for them if that becomes the final outcome of the rubber.
I believe the Indian cause wasn’t helped by the injury to Zaheer Khan at Lords. Possibly one of the best fast bowlers in world cricket at present Zaheer’s control and penetration could have been factors though I wonder how sufficient it would have been to overpower the high riding English at the moment. The issue that surrounds and compounds the Indian problem is the age old question of not being able to cope with the moving ball. I am convinced that none of the England fast bowlers would have been half as effective on sub continental pitches as they are in England, which I think is the main issue that bugs teams from these parts of the world. In that scenario unless you are able to match England with quality batting the chances are that you can get blown away.
To start with seam bowling in England is an art! This is not easily perfected though you may run in and use the seam as a bowler. One has to master it and know how to bowl in England. There have been many great fast bowlers who never delivered in England. Hence the importance of being able to survive as batsmen and to perform becomes a key factor in the overall scheme of things, as batting on most occasions will have to make up for the bowling inadequacies.
Sri Lanka who played in the first half of the summer in much tougher conditions survived as they could take the attack to the bowlers and batsmen at different times came up with special efforts. In Cardiff, Sri Lanka made four hundred in tough batting conditions with Prassana Jayawardane making a stylish century, only to fold badly in the second innings. Then at Lords, Dilshan counter attacked and didn’t let the English bowlers dominate. In the Third Test it was Sangakkara and Samaraweera. These performances clearly suggest that the main reason for Sri Lanka surviving was due to their managing of the English fast bowlers which has been better than their Indian counterparts up to now. In truth the Sri Lankan series should have been drawn!
On the Indian front the issue is, the batting has been found wanting. Dravid did get two hundreds but nobody really has anything else to show. The combined experience and runs of Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman should be more than the entire English line up possess. Besides these three there were Ghambir, Dhoni, Raina and Yuvraj. This possibly could be one of the strongest lists of batsmen a team have had in the last five years with the possible exception of Australia. Having such depth the Indian collapse and defeats are inexplicable. Watching the games on TV, one must admit that there were exceptional spells by Anderson, Bresnan and Broad. However, I would rather lay the blame at the feet of the Indian batting than anything else. Some of the shot making witnessed and the manner they kept playing at deliveries leaving them, were clear weakness that was displayed. Another factor that surprises me is the control Anderson has over Tendulkar dismissing him too regularly for the great man’s comfort.
Looking ahead to the next two games the good news for India is the return to fitness of Zaheer and Gambhir and the return of Sehwag. The bad news is the injury to Harbhajan and Yuvraj. However, I personally don’t think that either will be missed. Mishra the leg spinner is bound to be a much better bet than the out of form Harbajan. In any event leg spinners are a rarity in England and an inform Mishra could be vital for India. As for Yuvraj it is best that he concentrates in the shorter version of the game where he looks very much at home. In the only test he played he was made to look uncomfortable by the short delivery and it was only a matter of time before he succumbed to it. Which he eventually did being dismissed by Broad.
The next test match which is at Edgbaston is a must win for India though the pitch remains a mystery. The long serving grounds man the former Warwickshire player Steve Rouse in his final year at Birmingham will have to be at his best to ensure that the pitch lasts five days. It was just a few weeks ago that Warwickshire lost points in a county game for producing a sub standard pitch. So the fact that England will bank on pace which will demand grass should be good news for him. The last time England played here was against Pakistan, who were troubled by many allegations were bowled out for a paltry 72. Again on a green pitch, though the successful bowlers in that game were the two off spinners Ajmal and Swann.
Whilst England should be confident coming in to the game for obvious reasons the Indians will be weary of all these factors. They have to make sure that a winning combination is on the field. I don’t think many teams would have won from 120/8 on day one. India should be aware that it was they who allowed England to get out of Jail. No other team worth its salt would have ever permitted the tail to wag in the manner Broad and Swann did.
So it’s up to India to prove its mettle. The next two games will definitely decide as to who the real champions are and also how good and strong India is?