By Debotosh Chatterjee
Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist.
At the time this article was being written, the Indian team was fighting to stay alive at Manchester in their 4th Test match against England, after being forced by fire-breathing English seam bowlers to wind up an unimpressive first innings, right on the very first day of play, with 152 runs. Only a minuscule section of the zealous fans of Indian cricket could have accurately prognosticated such a grim fate of a team that was just recently involved in the proverbial rewriting of history, beating England in Lords after a painfully long hiatus of 28 years. Immediately afterwards, India surrendered in a rather meek fashion at The Rose Bowl in Southampton, and is en route a similar dose of humiliation in the match at Old Trafford – a turn of events that has doused the hopes of ‘young India’ conquering foreign shores with a series win, an anticipation which erupted in the hearts of the nation after a thumping victory at Lords.
The event of India taking an upper hand in an Away-Test series, against formidable opponents, only to lose it later, has occurred very rarely before, and warrants a thorough investigation of this matter. More often than not, even in the most glorious bygone days of Indian cricket, we have generally witnessed our team initially struggling to come to terms with the foreign conditions, losing the plot at the start of a series, but then mounting a strong comeback in most cases. The situation in England this year however, has a completely different connotation – India bagged the lead at Lords only to squander it away at Southampton, and are now perilously close to blowing up a historic advantage by conceding the series to the smart Englishmen. Let us analyze the situation closely.
The most concrete explanation that comes to mind; while performing this reconnaissance exercise; is the whimsical team selection that has characterized India’s presence in England after the glorious conclusion of the Lords Test match. While Ishant Sharma’s unfortunate injury may have been the preliminary motivation behind the changes in the team, a neutral observer is inclined to state that the Indians went a tad too far with it. Despite the absence of clear-cut information regarding the nature of the Southampton wicket, India chose to draft in Rohit Sharma and debutant Pankaj Singh, in place of Stuart Binny and the injured Ishant Sharma respectively– a move that clearly jolted an already weakened bowling attack, and did not boost the batting to any significant extent due to Rohit Sharma’s lack of quality exposure to English conditions in the past. Without much ado, the move backfired – Pankaj Singh went wicket-less in his debut Test, while Rohit Sharma could barely stitch together anything worthy of being called a ‘Test innings’, causing the Indian team to fall flat on their faces at a sporting Test track. The glaring absence of a certain Ravichandran Ashwin from the Indian line-up was also questioned later on, when the world witnessed a little known Moeen Ali spinning a sub-continental team out into the wilderness in the 4th innings.
Refusing to learn proper lessons from the Southampton debacle, the Indian team continued to make arbitrary changes to the playing XI before going into the 4th Test that was played at Old Trafford in Manchester – Dhawan, Rohit and Shami were dropped in order to accommodate Gambhir, Ashwin and Varun Aaron. It is also astonishing that no one in the management felt the need to question the inclusion of fresh faces in both Southampton and Manchester, knowing full well that none of these youngsters have had any substantial experience playing in these conditions. Note the fact that the Indian team that won at Lords was unchanged from the one that left Nottingham with just a tame draw under their belt – something that begs us to question the team management’s baffling tactics to make such whimsical changes in a team that has traditionally been known for falling calamitously out of place in foreign conditions.
With tea being served at Old Trafford on Day 2, and England inching towards a lead of 100, India’s chances of surviving the rest of the match looked unsurprisingly bleak, not unlike the cloudy skies that intermittently enveloped the Manchester sky since the start of the 4th Test. The last Test match of the series begins on the auspicious 15th of August 2014 at The Oval – and the success of India’s effort to restore sanity in this series shall be strongly determined by the management’s ability to understand that a settled team combination is the most precious asset on perfidious tours such as this one!
Debotosh is an undergraduate in Chemical Engineering at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, He is a die-hard cricket aficionado, who loves writing on the Gentleman’s Game. Besides, he is a percipient interpreter of daily life and is never shy of responsibly opining on issues, which he finds worthwhile. A passionate admirer of silence and tranquility, he is currently discovering the many joys that stem from ‘positive thinking’. Reading and traveling too fall within the periphery of his myriad interests.