Monday, August 22, 2011

On India's Batting

England have demolished India 4-0 in England in the summer of 2011. Two of the four wins came by an innings, while the other two came by 196 and 319 runs respectively. England used 13 players in the series, while India used 16. Two England players suffered injuries - Jonathan Trott and Chris Tremlett and were ably replaced by Ravi Bopara and Tim Bresnan. Bopara, England's sixth batsman proved to be unnecessary. He walked in at 596/4 at Edgbaston and 487/5 at The Oval. Bresnan on the other hand, has been lethal. He made 154 runs at 77 in 3 innings in 3 Tests, and took 16 wickets at 16. This was India's 4th white wash in England, and 7th overall. They lost every single Test in England in 1959, 1967 and 1974 before this. In addition they also lost every single Test in 1962 in West Indies and 1999-2000 in Australia. They also lost both Tests in New Zealand in 2002-03 and at home against South Africa in 2000.

The difference in this series can be summed up in Stuart Broad's comment during the presentation - "We set clear plans, we wanted to be slightly fuller..... We recognized I needed to bowl slightly fuller and bring the stumps into play and with that working at Lord's it gave me the confidence to continue with that."

Broad had to make an adjustment to achieve this, Bresnan and Anderson already did it. This was not a series for reverse swing, it was a series for conventional swing. With three bowlers attacking the stumps and the ball doing something for most of its 80 overs, these conditions were never going to be conducive to a stalemate between bat and ball. A better Indian batting line up might have saved the Lord's and Oval Tests, but only because at their best, this is a wonderful line up. Having to bat 117 overs at Lord's and 127 overs at Oval to save Tests were by no means "easy" assignments. But they were not beyond India's full strength line up.

Suresh Raina failed at number 6 in this series. Graeme Swann accounted for him multiple times. But India might have survived this serial absence of runs at number 6, if they had been able to field a stable opening pair. At the Oval, Gautam Gambhir could not open the batting in both innings. In the one Test where India had their best opening pair, Virender Sehwag managed a King pair! This disrupted the rest of India's batting - the engine room at 3, 4 and 5. Rahul Dravid opened the innings 4 times in this series. Each time, VVS batted at number 3.  India's opening wicket fell at 63, 19, 0, 6, 8, 0, 8 and 49. Thrice, India's openers fell first ball, each time to terrible strokes.

Gautam Gambhir couldn't catch a break. He kept getting hit while fielding - first on the elbow and then a concussion, each of which prevented him from opening the innings. And given his career track record so far, you can be sure that if there had been even half a chance of him being able to lift a cricket bat and face up, he would have walked out to open India's innings.

Virender Sehwag's injury prognosis went from bad to worse. Had India done well in the first two Tests, it is doubtful whether Sehwag would have been rushed back for the third and fourth Tests.

What does one say about Sachin Tendulkar? The great man has had a tragic series. At times, he has batted masterfully, without the runs to show for it. Ironically, his highest score in the series, 91, possibly also included his most modest batting performance. He batted better in the 2nd innings at Trent Bridge (56) and in the 1st innings Lord's (34) with very few runs to show for it. Until the final innings of this series, his first mistake often proved to be his last. This is how it is against teams with very few weak links. He made 273 runs in 4 Tests in this series - about 100 runs less than his usual par effort on a major overseas tour. This is his 14th Test tour to England, Australia or South Africa, and his 4th with an average under 40.

According to Nagraj Gollapudi A senior Indian cricketer once pin pointed the difference between Tendulkar and Dravid, and the rest of India's batsmen - "They will murder you when they are on top of the game and score big hundreds with ease. But it is when they are down and things are not going well, even then they can last for three hours. The rest just wilt without a spine." I don't like the bit about the "spine", but there is some truth to this difference. It can be laid down to technical ability and an awareness that things are not going well on the part of Tendulkar and Dravid.

Rahul Dravid has been through very rough phases during his long stays at the wicket in this series. He managed to survive those through luck (the unplayable ball thankfully eluded him, or, if it didn't, missed everything) and constant technical adjustment. His three hundreds on this tour must go down as one of the finest overseas batting performances by an Indian batsman. This list will be dominated by five names - Tendulkar, Dravid, Gavaskar, VVS and Mohinder Amarnath.

Suresh Raina and Abhinav Mukund were both found technically wanting. Duncan Fletcher, a man whose reputation precedes him from Western Province in South Africa, where he mentored Jacques Kallis, to his eight years with England (1999-2007), will have his hands full with the new batsmen.

The most remarkable aspect of this tour has been the number of disruptive injuries and illnesses that India's players have suffered. Here's a rough recounting:

1. Zaheer Khan had trouble with his hamstring, and then a recurring problem with his ankle flared up and has required surgery.
2. Sachin Tendulkar had the flu in the middle of the Lord's Test, couldn't take the field on Day 4.
3. Harbhajan Singh tore a muscle at Trent Bridge, couldn't bowl during India's second innings.
4. Yuvraj Singh suffered a broken finger at Trent Bridge, and was ruled out for the remaining Tests.
5. Praveen Kumar suffered an ankle injury in the second innings at Edgbaston, and was ruled out at the Oval.
6. Gautam Gambhir suffered a blow to his elbow early in the series, and a concussion during the Oval Test - both injuries prevented him from opening the batting and caused him to miss a Test Match.
7. Virender Sehwag was rushed back into Test Cricket for the 3rd Test. His shoulder injury had not healed. In addition, he has a problem with his left ear which is causing trouble with vision and balance (this, even to my untrained, amateur eye, seems to be something quite serious).

A fully fit, full strength India side on its best form, might well have beaten England in this series. What might "fully fit, full strength India side on its best form" mean? It means the following:

1. All 6 first choice batsmen fit and in form.
2. Zaheer fully fit and supremely conditioned to play 4 Tests in 5 weeks, and bowl 50 overs a Test.
3. Ishant and Sreesanth both focused and settled as support bowlers - capable of the odd good spell.
4. Harbhajan Singh fully fit.
5. MS Dhoni well rested and fit.

So poor is India bench strength in the fast bowling and spin bowling departments, that if all of this doesn't work, India's standards drop alarmingly. On result wickets, this means defeats. India have survived with less than full strength sides against the weaker sides - like West Indies, and on flat wickets, like in Sri Lanka (where the wickets were so flat, that 1 solitary bad innings from Sri Lanka's batsmen was enough to give India a chance to win a Test) and India, where fast bowlers who can bowl a good line and length are not world beaters.

Think of the batsmen waiting to get into the Test team - Cheteshwar Pujara (who would have made this tour and the West Indies tour, but for an injury the IPL), Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Subramanium Badrinath, Manish Pandey. And then think of the bowlers - can you think of any?

On these wickets, 300 was a par innings score for the most part. India managed to get close most times. But  failed to hold England anywhere near this score other than in one innings at Trent Bridge. Conceding 474/8, 544 all out, 710/7 and 591/6, on result wickets, guarantees one thing - Test defeats.

This has been a wretched tour for the batsmen. But it has been a revealing one for the bowlers.

5 comments:

  1. A fully fit, full strength India side on its best form, might well have beaten England in this series.
    lmfao that cracked me up bigg time

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  2. Alright! this is getting embarrassing now. When will Tendulkar get his 100th century. Read interesting article @ cricblogger@wordpress.com about Tendulkar's 100th century jinx

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  3. ICC Needs to Revamp its Ranking System. Do visit us @ cricblogger.wordpress.com with your comments and feedback

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  4. A fairly balanced appraisal. But you seem to ignore the great elephant in the room that is IPL. Equally MSD (formerly King Midas of Ranchi!) not being a test class batsman outside the sub con or wicket keeper in English conditions. And as for the overrated Gambhir, I don't know what track record you refer to, but the man is India's answer to Hick, a classic flat track bully if ever there was one! Even at his fittest, he lacks the technique to counter swing at pace. Just listen to Boycs dissecting him on TMS! The bowlers need to be blooded in ASAP, three pacy guys in the form of Varun, Umesh Yadav and that Kashmiri kid whose name escapes me currently. They need to be told to focus purely on speed and reverse swing wherever it is possible. The days of playing the likes of Sreesanth and Munaf trundling in at 82mph tops with no swing have to be over. MSD's clout over the Madras mafia too does not bode well. Imagine playing Mr Lard personified RP Singh who makes Madan Lal look line a strike bowler!! Spin stock too appears to be at an all time low. It is not the losing that hurts, it is the lack of effort and competing which does. There is worse to come for Team India under this regime, with Srinivasan of Madras IPL jokers and BCCI president elect fame waiting in the wings to take over. Keep up the good work, one needs to retain faith in these dire dark times.

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  5. Things went down very badly indeed. Lord's and Oval tests at least should have been saved. The second test got away from the Indian team when they couldn't finish off the English line up in the first innings and then capitulated needlessly. 4-0 is not the result I would have expected at the beginning of the series.

    One always wonders why VVS gets so many good balls. Now, I like the man a lot but cannot comprehend if that is a weakness that gets exploited or if he really gets out to good balls. Tendulkar and Dravid seem to not get so many of them. Is it a matter of adjustment that he needs to make for the ball that comes in? He loses his loses his off stump quite frequently. I would not blame his getting out to the pull shot( Cricinfo Journo says bad shot selection and haste) because that is his productive shot, he just got out a few times. But unable to play the inswinger and always claiming a good ball does not sit well with me for a batsman of that calibre.That said, I do not agree with Ganguly's opinion that he's not a good fit at No.3. Had it not been for Dravid's brilliance he would have scored more runs than he did at No.6. He was needlessly slotted at No.6 when Ganguly was captain( I remember Ganguly once saying that he gets bored waiting, so he just took No.5). I'd like to hear your opinion on that. He batted beautifully on the 2nd morning of the 2nd test.

    I also think Sreesanth is not such a bad bowler like the statistics show, but fail to understand why he did not succeed in English conditions. A stint in the counties should do him good.

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