A big question mark
CHENNAI: What started as a tour that was supposed to let India stamp their authority has ended as a series of what could have been. The 4-1 scoreline in favour of England doesn’t reflect how close India came in Edgbaston and Southampton, nor the admirable manner in which they fought back from 0-2 down to clinch a win in Nottingham, nor the grand exhibition of seam bowling that their pacers dished out match after match.
But whether they like it or not, this team couldn’t have asked for a more rude awakening. This isn’t how a No 1 ranked Test side that wants to be the greatest — or claims to be the best Indian side — plays. For all the talk and noise they make, they have not been able to put that into action. We all thought that in South Africa, they had chinks in their armour. But, that Johannesburg win probably came at the wrong time, as that lulled India into thinking that there aren’t any.
They arrived in England, up against a side who have shown in recent history that they are vulnerable in their own conditions. Now they head back, having suffered their heaviest defeat under Virat Kohli. This isn’t what the captain — who despite having one of the most outstanding series for an Indian batsman on an ovearseas tour — would have foreseen at the beginning. Unlike the 2011 and 2014 tours, where nobody really expected India to win the series, this team thought they had it in them to make history. Head coach Ravi Shastri kept boasting about that, without having actually made it.
How did things go south, then? When Shastri took over in 2014, he had remarked that by the time they’d come back to England again, they’d be No 1. They’d achieved that distinction long back. But having put in the hard yards to be the best travelling side, they have undone all of it on two challenging tours this year. They can’t point fingers anywhere.
India had enough time to acclimatise to conditions. Unlike South Africa, they played the limited- over series first up; a theory they believed would benefit their batsmen. With a long Test series in store, they gave players days away from the field, and even reduced their lone practice fixture to a two-day affair. At Edgbaston, they were within a sniff of a victory before blowing it away. At Lord’s, they were unlucky to bat twice when conditions were heavily loaded in the favour of seamers. Those days do occur, but they’re aberrations.
The first, fourth and fifth Tests didn’t have any. India’s issues aren’t skill-based. They have more to do with the failure to admit the issues that they’re confronted with. Their opener merry-go-round has already resulted in a casualty: Murali Vijay. How long will India persist with Shikhar Dhawan before realising that he’s a liability overseas? It’s been eight Tests since India’s batsmen have clicked as a unit. How the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, who with his terrific overseas run four years ago, have become a pale shadow of themselves is one question among the many that need an answer.
India have stuck to players who have repeatedly let them down, as against the ones who have bailed them out in the past. It isn’t too late for Kohli the captain to look at the mirror and ask a few questions. Especially about whether this constant chopping and changing of the playing XI has really benefitted anyone. Kohli and Shastri have seldom liked it when fingers have been pointed at them for selection calls or their side’s combination.
They say that those questions — whether they come from journalists or former greats — are irrelevant to the team. They send out the message that they aren’t answerable. Kohli admitted after his team’s loss on Tuesday that they had let “a huge opportunity slip”. He told Mike Atherton that the scoreline could have been “fair” if they had seized “quite a few missed” ones. But that “if ” has now been rendered irrelevant.
England 1st Innings: 332 India 1st Innings: 292 England 2nd Innings: 423/8 decl India 2nd Innings (target 464, overnight 58/3): Rahul b Rashid 149, Rahane c Jennings b Ali 37, Vihari c Bairstow b Stokes 0, Pant c Moeen b Rashid 114, Jadeja c Bairstow b Curran 13, Ishant c Bairstow b Curran 5, Shami b Anderson 0, Bumrah 0 n.o. Extras (b 10, lb 16) 26. Total (10 wkts, 94.3 ovs) 345. FoW: 1-1, 2-1, 3-2, 4-120, 5-121, 6-325, 7-328, 8-336, 9-345. Bowling: Anderson 22.3-11-45-3; Broad 12-1-43-1; Moeen 17-2-68-1; Curran 9-2-23-2; Stokes 13-1-60-1; Rashid 15-2-63-2; Root 6-1-17-0.