We’re into the fourth test at Old Trafford between two struggling test units, England and India. The series is at 1-1, but it won’t stay that way. They’re taking turns to self-destruct, and unfortunately, it is now India’s turn. England are peaking at the right time, and getting their bowling act together.
After being bowled out for 152 in the first innings after electing to bat, many of India’s overseas problems are glaring and obvious. Six ducks is a new record, after being 8-4 at one stage with only 3 batsmen reaching double figures. This makes for sorry reading, but here are the issues that have plagued this young transitional test team over the last year:
MS Dhoni is not a good test captain, when in charge of new blood. He isn’t instinctive like Ganguly or safe like Dravid, and he is too stubborn—and there are no senior stalwarts to guide him anymore either. He went on the defensive in less than a session on the first day at Rose Bowl after seeing “no purchase” in the pitch for seamers, and played for a draw by bowling Jadeja with a 7-2 field through the day to keep it “tight”. While his batsmen have failed him at Old Trafford, his control over his slip cordon is less than average, while his own keeping has been abysmal. He is lacking the fitness to keep through all forms of cricket, and something must be done about it.
7 out of 15 catches have been dropped in the slip cordon through the series—which consists of Vijay, Rahane, Kohli, Rohit and Dhawan at various points. Nobody has a fixed position, and they have no idea where to stand or at what distance, using Dhoni as a focal point. The drops have cost them 238 runs—an entire innings—and we’re not even counting the ones that have fallen short of them. Dhoni’s lack of mobility has contributed to their mismanagement, and Ashwin seems to be the only specialist fielder in the cordon for this series. If a new Dravid or Sehwag has to be groomed, now is the time.
3 of the top 4 have invariably failed in these 4 matches so far, with Dhawan already dropped, and Kohli and Pujara retained due to reputation and lack of options. Their struggle against the moving ball is an eye-opener, and Anderson has been having them for breakfast every session. Vijay hasn’t contributed for a match now either, getting his first duck in Manchester and joining the brigade. Except for Rahane, Vijay and, at times, Dhoni—there has been nobody showing the willingness to put his head down and grind through a long innings. Kohli has been particularly woeful scoring 102 runs in 7 innings.
Bhuvi has gone off the boil, and Shami has been the bowlers’ equivalent of Kohli this series, finally dropped to make way for a more potent Aaron. Nobody has bowled impressively, except Ishant’s spell in Lords where the batsmen decided to bring in Diwali for him early. Jadeja has been toothless and defensive like his captain, and it will be interesting to see how Ashwin will respond to his selection. So far, forget taking 20 wickets, taking 10 is an issue after Lords. Expect a loss at Old Trafford, more due to the batting failure than a bowling misfire.
He has been an enigma, and he rode his luck at Lords to play that once-in-a-blue-moon counter-attacking innings. Other than that, he has done virtually nothing with the bat or ball, at times showing the kind of brainlessness that he is famous for. That he is being picked over Binny despite Ashwin playing his role better than him (how the tables have turned) is surprising, but Dhoni will have to make a decision soon. As lethal as they are on the dustbowls of India, Jadeja and Ashwin are nothing more than handy batters abroad, who can bowl a bit.
India hadn’t won an overseas test since June 2011 (West Indies) when they were newly-crowned World Champions, after which they started their alarming leap down with the infamous 0-4 bashing in England. They lost 8 in a row (England and Australia), before going on to lose 0-1 in South Africa and 0-2 in New Zealand. As World Champions, you’d be hard-pressed to find a worse Away Test record during their 4-year reign (other than Sri Lanka after ’96.