India have been rolled over again, this time in four days and a wee bit more. Another insipid bowling performance, yet another fragile batting performance and of course England’s growing brilliance condemned the hosts to a 7 wicket defeat at the Eden Gardens – the first time since 1999-00 that India have lost two back-to-back Tests at home. But even though India have been rolled over twice in two matches, the big question is that will heads roll too?
It is difficult to say which has been the most painful of defeats of India – the twin whitewashes of last season or the tame surrender in their own den. India have been victims of their own arrogance and perhaps, an underestimation of their opponents. When the series started, there was talk of how England would be blown away on the dust of the turning Indian pitches – for England can’t play spin apparently. Players like Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag displayed sheer cockiness after their team was pummeled in England and Australia – they loudly proclaimed that things will be different when these two teams visit India, and that they will ‘avenge’ their overseas losses by a similar victory at home. Lions at home, lambs abroad. Wonder how true that statement holds true after the Kolkata defeat.
All talk of revenge has been ruthlessly buried by Alastair Cook’s determined outfit. It needs a lot of character and bloody-mindedness to put back a defeat of the sort England faced at Ahmedabad in the first Test. The ‘England can’t play spin’ clamour had only become louder. But the second innings of that very Test probably instilled the belief in England that they are not as bad as they are made to be. The moment of resurgence was led by none other than Cook, who has been simply amazing in his batting and captaincy. Though England lost the Test, they knew that India can be beaten. Just three weeks later, England are now all set to win a series in India for the first time in 28 years.
While England appear to have meticulously prepared for the India tour, their opponents seem to be most concerned about how the pitch will play. India were thrashed abroad on ‘seaming’ wickets (though many of them were flat tracks actually), therefore MS Dhoni openly began his demand of a pitch that would ‘turn from Day 1’. Like a spoilt child being indulged by his parent, Dhoni got exactly what he wanted in Mumbai, and accordingly three spinners were unleashed on the visitors. As it turned out, two were enough for England themselves as Dhoni’s greed horribly backfired, culminating in a ten-wicket defeat.
So for the third Test, it was back to the good old ‘batting paradise’ at the Eden. However the pitch was a batting beauty only for the visitors, who duly went up in the series, perhaps even surprising themselves in the process. Unfortunately for India, the pitch cannot be blamed anymore for their defeats. Bouncy pitches – whitewashed. Rank turners – humiliated. Flat deck – soundly beaten. What does that say of the Indian Test team? The answer, apart from England’s grit and spirit, lies in the selection of players in the final eleven.
Which brings us to the players. Now that we cannot blame the pitches, isn’t it finally time to train the guns on the players themselves? Over the last one and a half years, virtually the same team is being played over and over again in spite of the spate of massive defeats. While Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman realised that their time was up, most of the others thought otherwise even though their performance was there for all to see.
The harsh reality is that MS Dhoni is still the Test captain only because India just does not have a single other worthy candidate to lead the team. Dhoni’s early Test success was a result of facing average teams on suitable wickets. The Dhoni of today has been a clueless spectator and an uninspiring leader. It is almost gut-wrenching to see Dhoni standing helpless as the opponents rack up huge partnerships. If not for his captaincy, honestly there would have been a huge question mark on his very place in the Test eleven.
Yuvraj Singh’s return has been below-par as well, and one wonders whether he can still prove himself to be a Test-class batsman. As for Sachin Tendulkar, no selector is willing to make a move because of his reputation. The selectors get paid handsomely for their job, but all they do is pick the same squad again and again. Zaheer Khan is clearly over-the-hill, and the time is ripe for a new pace ‘spearhead’.
The spinners are of course the best India have, but England’s solid batting line-up has completely negated their threat after the Ahmedabad Test. The openers too have been given a long rope, and the worrying factor is that Sehwag’s stays at the crease nowadays are getting shorter by the game – he is nowhere close to the man who blitzed two triple hundreds. Cheteshwar Pujara is the only batsman who can be termed as a consistent performer in this series, and Virat Kohli’s poor form will most probably be an aberration, as he is here to stay.
The Nagpur Test beckons in four days, and the selectors have to make some bold moves if India are to square the series and salvage some pride. The likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Robin Bist and Manoj Tiwary – not to mention the in-form Ravindra Jadeja – should be strongly considered for selection, even if it means dropping a couple of big names. Perplexedly, Ishant Sharma is still being persisted with despite Ashok Dinda’s strong displays on the domestic circuit. There is no dearth of talent in India, but unless the selectors make room for such players, their talent will be wasted. Once he is injury-free, Umesh Yadav should be groomed as India’s Test pace bowling spearhead as Zaheer is unlikely to get back in form anytime soon.
All the tall claims before the series have fallen flat on their face. When India were beaten 8-0 in England and Australia last season, we blamed the conditions. It was promised that the scoreline would repeat, albeit in India’s favour come the home rubbers. All the cockiness and reluctance to accept change of the Indian players and administrators have been completely exposed now. India on the verge of a rare home series defeat. We have blamed the pitches, the curators, the fatigue, the IPL (surely IPL is in a way responsible for India’s batting collapses), the coach… but we have stopped short of making the players themselves responsible. Wholesale changes are the order of the day, even if it does not help overnight.
India have bee thoroughly outplayed by a superior team with better spinners, more effective seamers, batsmen of higher temperament, a better ability to adapt and a captain who leads by example. India’s current predicament is very similar to Australia’s in 2010-11, when they succumbed to a tame 1-3 Ashes defeat to England at home under Ricky Ponting. The Australian system underwent a massive overhaul after the series, and under the Argus review, no one was above the game and everyone was held accountable.
Australia have responded positively to the review, and did not lose a series until they ran into South Africa this season. India needs exactly an overhaul of that sort. If these defeats are not an eye-opener, nothing will worryingly ever be. Will the powers-that-be wait till the 4th Test to bring about the much-needed change? Or after another home loss to Australia? Or, horror of horrors, will these defeats too be forgotten come the IPL season?