Virat’s One-Man Army ‘Prepared’ to Surrender Meekly in England
The Indian cricket team has had yet another nightmare start to a Test series in England. This is the third straight debacle in the making, in the country.
The rot had actually set in way back in 2011 when a World champion ODI side led by MS Dhoni set out to play a Test series in England. India had come in as a disjointed side with one practice game and ended up losing horribly. A number of careers ended abruptly and there were a lot of hurt egos.
Three years later, India started off surprisingly in a much better manner, going up 1-0 in the series. But then the hero of that famous Lord’s win, Ishant Sharma, got injured and things went pear shaped thereafter. India’s batting collapsed for three straight Tests and handed a 3-1 win to England.
In 2018, India again landed as the world’s number one Test side in England. The world was watching, ready to mock our lack of ability to win away from home. And India, once again has duly obliged. This time with yet another abject surrender.
The reactions from the world on social media is perhaps the best indicator of how much the world dislikes India as a cricketing nation and more so its players, led by skipper Virat Kohli. While it is easy to get riled by those comments, it is more important to look inwards to understand where Indian cricket is going wrong.
For starters it is the same set of English bowlers who have run through us, since the 2011 tour. So for one, it shows complete lack of preparation and awareness about the task on hand. A set of bowlers can have a hold over a side once, but not for three successive tours and over two generations of batsmen. Stuart Broad and James Anderson were England’s top two wicket-takers during the four-match Test series in 2011 and same remains the case now.
Ishant Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara played county cricket to attune themselves for this series, after being not wanted by anyone in the Indian Premier League (IPL). But the other Test specialists were not flown in earlier to get some game time in.
The likes of Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami and Ravindra Jadeja were all short of a gallop. Yet just two of these Test specialists – Vijay and Rahane – played the final match of the India A vs England Lions series. India A in fact played three first-class games, but there was no attempt to play by most of the Test players.
Then there is the curious case of a truncated tour game against Essex before the first Test. These barely there warm-up games have become the tendency since that 2011 tour to England. It also shows a lack of respect for the Test match format.
In fact since the World Cup 2011 win, India’s attempts at playing overseas Test matches, which are not in Sri Lanka and West Indies, have been lackadaisical. The white ball form has clouded the thinking when it comes to picking Test squads. This results in confusion and a lot of insecurity.
There is a false sense of bravado as a result. Earlier this year in South Africa, India saved face by winning a Test at Johannesburg, followed by the ODI and T20I series. We were promised then that the planning for England tour will be different. Well, we had all the time in the world, the white ball series gave you enough time to adjust. But the fact is the Test batting line-up is completely different to the ODI/T20I XI.
If you fail to prepare, then be prepared to fail.
Pakistan for example, thanks to a hard-nosed coach Mickey Arthur obsessed with improving their Test record, has brought the above dictum into his side. As a result, before the two-Test series against England earlier in May-June, Pakistan played three first-class games. Pakistan was well prepared as a result, and they levelled the series 1-1. They even went back in 2016 with a 2-2 result in a four-Test series. Again by only one way: preparing well.
It all boils down to just one thing, the lack of a person prepared to crack the whip in the side. Someone who as head coach can be the tough as nails. A nuts and bolts man in the dressing room. The current head coach, Ravi Shastri, is only too happy making lofty statements, which sound all fine as bravado, but what it has done is left the Test XI as a one-man batting unit.
The other batsmen appear uncertain, confused and look lost on the field. At Lord’s for example every batsman appeared to be just one ball away from being dismissed. That is hardly a sign of India being the world’s number one Test side. No wonder then the joke is on us as a cricketing nation.
It is a matter of concern that we have won just one of our last 11 Tests in England and also drawn just one. All the efforts put in to change the narrative around India’s Test performances away from home in 2000s by the Golden Generation of Indian cricket, has been frittered away quite easily in this decade.
It does seem that this decade will end as India’s worst phase alongside the 1990s in overseas Test performances. The 1990s was an underachieving era because of reasons that were not just cricketing, but this now is a bigger malaise. We must remember that there is a series in Australia later this year where we enter with no scheduled warm-up game before the four Test matches.
When England won the Ashes back in 2010-11 in Australia they spent close to three weeks preparing the boring old fashioned way: by playing, practising et al. If Indian cricket is hoping to tackle a fit, raring to go, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummins with this approach, then prepare for another debacle. We are of course yet to win a Test series in Australia and the upcoming series could have been our best chance with both Steve Smith and David Warner being banned.
But who cares about the Test match format in a World Cup year?
Before that we have three more Tests in this series, with no way for those on the bench to test themselves. Why? Because the team think-tank is happy with no game time.
All this points to just one thing that maybe, just maybe, that six hit by MS Dhoni that night in Mumbai in April 2011 also ended our love affair with Test cricket victories away from home, forever.
(Chandresh Narayanan is former cricket writer with The Times of India, The Indian Express, ex-Media Officer for ICC and current media manager of Delhi Daredevils. He is also the author of World Cup Heroes, Cricket Editorial consultant, professor and cricket TV commentator.)