The Perfect Loss

India in England 2014: England defeat India by 266 runs in 3rd test; Series at 1-1

A week ago, Alastair Cook was a broken choir boy. The responsibility of leading the country in a sport invented by them seemed to have taken a toll on (not his looks) his batting too; Tendulkar fans have been relieved over the last year to see Cook’s average dip without an addition to test centuries. Cook is 28 and has such a long way to go, that many of Sachin’s superhuman batting records looked to be in danger. But this was the furthest thing from Cook’s mind after the Lords test. It had been almost a year since England had last won a test match. What’s worse—none of them looked capable anymore.

A week later, Cook smiled the smile that only athletes can smile. Redemption is a mild word, considering the kind of win he led his team to. And he did lead this time, with bat and brain. He didn’t make mistakes, though batting again after having a choice to enforce a follow-on would seem like one—because his batsmen cooperated, and his bowlers, led by an unlikely bearded hero, transported India back to overseas hell.

It is a perfect win, in the 3rd test at the Ageas Bowl, in the sense that England didn’t lose one single session. India didn’t win a single session, resulting in the perfect loss—something they have been achieving overseas for three years now, rekindling cold memories of their last tour here.
This was the sort of defeat expected of this young inexperienced team, and England’s deer-in-headlights performance at Lords put Dhoni’s boys into a world they weren’t used to. It became about which team played worse in the series. Watching the test as an Indian felt like slow, familiar death—where it was obvious that flat pitches were more of an issue to the Indian bowlers than green tops were to Indian batsmen. Except Rahane, everyone failed. The bowlers were put on the defensive by their captain from day 1, where Dhoni seemed to have decided that a draw is a sufficient result. He ruled out his own bowlers from the match, deciding to go in with an extra batsman (Rohit), and trying to outbat England.
It wasn’t about Ishant not playing or Binny being dropped. It was about a total failure by batsmen who would have fancied their chances on a responsive pitch. It was about fielders not taking their chances, and bowlers losing their lines for 2 whole days.

There are solutions, of course.
Dhawan needs to be “rested”, and told to think about his technique and temperament. Getting beaten by Moeen Ali isn’t disgraceful at all, considering 5 other batsmen met with the same ordeal. This could be Gambhir’s final chance—2 tests to prove that he still has it. It also seems like Vijay’s newfound monk ability at the crease has affected Dhawan even more, and made him restless to get a move-on.
Ashwin and Aaron have been on the bench, and will fancy their chances in the fourth test. Rohit must be dropped after an abject performance; Binny batted better than him in the first two tests. India should stick to their strengths for now and play Ashwin despite his terrible overseas record. More so, because both these spinners can bat, and Dhoni always prefers extra batsmen. Ashwin can do Rohit’s job with the bat and bowl an extra 50 overs that is sure to fetch his team a wicket. Or two. Aaron can be tried but that would be extra responsibility on Dhoni and Jadeja as batsmen, and we all know that they aren’t capable.
Naman Ojha could be tried as an opener, considering his form against Australia A.
Pankaj Singh may have been unlucky, but conceding 179 runs means that he did bowl poorly in phases. Ishant may not play, and Aaron could take this place.
Jadeja needs to be an attacking spinner, and not bowl to hold up one end. Bhuvi is out of rhythm suddenly and Shami is baffling everyone by not taking wickets.
Kohli must find form. Quickly. Pujara must follow suit. Quickly.

The third test at Old Trafford could very well seal India’s fate. But even a draw here, or a win, will not able to hide their long-term problems, one of which is an age-old one: How to take 20 wickets?

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