Just about a week ago, India looked confident and determined to achieve their goal of a ‘revenge’ series whitewash. It had all gone according to script in the first Test – a slow track at Motera, England as expected succumbing to spin, and an easy 9-wicket triumph for the hosts. But captain MS Dhoni said that he wanted a track which turned from the first ball for the next Test. His wish was fulfilled, and he had everything on a platter. Yet his team’s fortunes turned around amazingly, as it crashed to a ten-wicket defeat. Forget a whitewash, England seem the better team at the moment.
India got to bat first, fielded three spinners on a made-to-order pitch and yet were crushed in just over three days by a team which was written off only a week back. Three players stood out for England and made the difference – Kevin Pietersen, Alastair Cook and Monty Panesar. Pietersen played like only he can, exorcising his troubles against left-arm spin with a breathtaking, attacking knock of 186, while skipper Cook continued his great form, laying the foundation with a solid 122, and sharing a match-winning stand of 206 with Pietersen. Panesar was outstanding, stunning the so-called best players of spin with a match haul of eleven wickets. One wonders whether the result would have been different for England had they not made the mistake of leaving out Panesar in the Ahmedabad Test. Kevin Pietersen’s masterly 186 flattened India’s spin trio at Mumbai (source – msn.com)
While the eventual result may be attributed to one big partnership between two of the best batsmen in the world today, the fact that England’s spinners got much more purchase out of the wicket than their Indian counterparts cannot be overlooked. While the English duo of Panesar and Greame Swann took 19 wickets at an average of 17, the Indian spin trio of Ravichandran Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan Singh managed only 9 at 46. Many felt that Dhoni’s demand for a tailor-made turner bordered on the ridiculous, and they will be justified now that the English tweakers have given his spinners a lesson on how to bowl on such pitches. But Dhoni, obstinate as ever, said that he wanted such pitches for the remaining two Tests as well. And if Panesar and Swann bowl the way they did in Mumbai, Dhoni might just suffer the ignominy of being the first Indian captain to lose a home series to England in 28 years. Monty Panesar stole the show with a match haul of 11/210
Dhoni has never been a good Test captain, and we all know that India’s rise to World No.1 in late 2009 was on the back of victories at home or against lesser oppositon. Last season the team returned a horrendous showing, getting blanked in both England and Australia. The problem is, India just does not have an alternative to Dhoni as captain – Sehwag’s form is volatile, Gambhir has been below average for quite some time, Kohli is still young and inexperienced. But while Dhoni will go down in history as a good one-day skipper, he has been repeatedly found wanting in the longer format. Defensive fields, allowing easy singles, letting Ashwin bowl around the wicket when the need of the hour was to attack – his below-par captaincy was in display in Mumbai. Add to that his poor batting in Tests – when was the last time he played a crucial Test innings?
Dhoni’s poor batting form brings us to the rest of the Indian batting. The grand old man of modern Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, averages a measly 15 in his last ten innings. His reflexes have slowed down, he does not seem like getting back into form at the highest level – yet former players assure us of ‘one big knock’ from him that will ‘silence his critics’ and obviously, prolong his career further. But when will that ‘big innings’ come? No one knows.
Apparently, the selectors are going by reputation, and this is having a negative effect on the team. The statement that ‘Tendulkar himself has to take a call’ is ridiculous – he has always portrayed himself as a team man, and if that is the case, he has to seriously consider his future for the team’s sake. At Mumbai, he was found wanting against Panesar in both innings. Save for Pujara, none of the other batsmen showed application to play on the wicket, and India’s Sunday collapse was reminiscent of India’s poor batting in seaming conditions last seasons. Can’t play pace, can’t play spin? These are troubled times for India, unless the Mumbai defeat was an aberration. Sachin Tendulkar is proving to be liability in the team due to his woeful form
The Indian spinners missed a few tricks in Mumbai. Ashwin bowling around the wicket was a very defensive approach. While the English spinners bowled faster through the air to keep the batsmen guessing, the Indians looked for bounce and flight, which gave the likes of Pietersen ample time to swat the ball to the boundary. As the Mumbai pitch curator Sudhir Naik said, ‘if Dhoni is ordering doctored pitches, he should know how to prepare to play on such wickets too’.
Indeed, Dhoni’s spin theory horribly backfired. Over to Kolkata now. Perhaps Dhoni can play Ashok Dinda and drop the off colour Harbhajan to restore the team balance, but Dhoni seems adamant about his demands. Meanwhile, England now have a serious chance of winning the series. Its amazing how fortunes can turn around in a week – that is the beauty of Test cricket.