Two test matches into the ‘Revenge’ series, and it’s 1-1.
And much like Dhoni’s stubborn insistence on turning tracks, this scoreline is great for test cricket. Not so much for the home team. India won, England won.
This is no more a regular India-England test series. This is now a battle beyond egos and hurt pride. It is a series shed of its baggage and a contest that will exist within its moments.
MS Dhoni is known as a man who invariably knows what he wants. He is a captain who stands by his word, irrespective of how wrong or right that word may be. So it is not surprising to hear him ask for the same kind of Wankhede turning track at Eden Gardens, Kolkata for the third test. Half the country may be mocking him for his decision to ask for it after a successful Ahmedabad test match. But his request was perfectly fair, not because he wanted to be a hometown bully – in fact, quite the opposite. In the long run, if you look at the kind of results that Ahmedabad has churned out over the years, it doesn’t hold as a great advertisement for high-quality test cricket. The formula, other than the freak South Africa test, has always remained the same.
In order to even out the field, which many thoughts was not possible given England’s infamous ability against quality spin, Dhoni asked for turning wickets- yes, to win, but also to give his own team a fair workout. The decision to give Test Cricket a fighting chance in the subcontinent is now looked at the biggest backfire of Dhoni’s career. To be fair, not many of us expected England’s spinners to outbowl Ojha and Ashwin. They didn’t. They outbowled Ojha, Ashwin and Harbhajan- put together.
And nothing can be taken for granted anymore. Nothing was a foregone conclusion. 4-0 certainly wasn’t, not with India’s recent ability to shut down at Home after winning ugly. One doesn’t remember the last time India whitewashed a team in a test series at home. The 2-0, 1-0 scorelines have always included the odd draw- a match where the home team often ‘experiments’ without much success.
Many post-mortem reports have been written already about Mumbai- a ground where India hasn’t been fond of historically. The odd win has always been offset by a heavy loss- their last two to England at homecoming on this same pitch. The weak links stood out, as expected, and there have been no doubts left about who should be given a last chance and who should be warned.
Rolls have been written on Sachin Tendulkar and his future. But the rolls wouldn’t have held much importance if India had just played to their strengths and stuck to solid spin bowling. Their batting collapse in the second innings was a surrender that reminded nervous fans of their recent away losses. Yuvraj Singh’s woes against quality spin bowling continue not to baffle most, and Raina’s eyes continue to light up with each Swann offbreak past Yuvi’s bat. Gambhir’s fighting second innings effort has not taken away his previous 9 first and second inning efforts- home and away. Rahane is still knocking on the door, harder than ever, with Sehwag at least prone to the odd quick-scoring 60. Kohli’s against-the-run-of-play form dip is not so much as a form dip as it is continuous brain freeze. The temperament isn’t all there yet for the best-limited overs batsman in the world. India’s biggest problem, after two tests, is R. Ashwin- who looks like the best batsman in the side, but the most ineffective bowler after reaching 50 test wickets faster than any other Indian. If he is proving to be ineffective at home against a team that wasn’t supposed to read him, a disillusioned Harbhajan Singh might begin to fancy his chances in the coming tours- despite not even being close to the bowler he was years ago. Zaheer Khan continues to be a name on paper in this series, also because MS Dhoni continues to treat him like a pensioner.
Kolkata, though, has favored India over the years- starting with their most important test victory ever in 2001. This is a ground where VVS Laxman created a career out of thin air, and Rahul Dravid saved his own career, and hence India’s decent away record over the last decade.
This will not be about Sachin Tendulkar’s third comeback though. It will not be about Harbhajan Singh’s vindication, or R. Ashwin finding himself. This will be a man-to-man matchup, a simple test of which player plays better at his position over 5 days of competitive test cricket.
While Faf Du Plessis shows Test Cricket the way Down Under with the greatest rearguard innings in recent memory, it will be up to Alastair Cook and Pujara to prove that India and England are fighting for no. 4 and 5, but for a place under the changing shadows of the new subcontinent sun.