At the close of first day’s play in the recently concluded Mumbai Test, Ravichandran Ashwin had turned up as the unlikely savior for Team India in the company of India’s newest batting sensation, Cheteshwar Pujara. From 160-odd for 6 wickets to 266/6 was a remarkable turnaround and the England spinners had their confidence dented, so to ‘speak. Earlier in the day, all the batting stalwarts of the Indian lineup had flattered to deceive. The second ball of the Indian innings had brought the downfall of Gambhir who again fell negotiating an incoming delivery with minimal footwork. Sehwag, playing a landmark 100thtest, did not last any long and was dismissed in his usual I-don’t-give-a-damn fashion. In came the Master Blaster amid loud cheers from his home crowd but could last only 12 balls. When Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh were sent back, the latter going for a duck, the Indians were looking down the barrel. The skipper MSD and Pujara held forte for quite an appreciable time but when Dhoni left, the score was still a precarious 169/6. Ashwin and Pujara, then joined forces to thwart Englishmen from restricting India to below 200.
The aforementioned heroics of Pujara and Ashwin were the only silver lining in the otherwise dismal Indian performance. The end of second day’s play had a strong premonition of a very, very difficult third day and onwards for the Indians. England 178/2 in response to India’s 327 after the second day. On Day 3, Cook and Pietersen both scored hundreds, England finished at 413, a healthy 86 runs ahead of India. On a fast turning third day Wankhede wicket, Panesar and Swann spun a vicious web around Dhoni’s men which meant India barely managed to stave off an innings defeat, ending the day at 117/7 or effectively 31/7. The most optimistic Indian fan ever, also wouldn’t have thought of any kind of a turnaround and true to that fan’s expectations India survived another 11 overs on the fourth day stretching the meager lead to 57 runs. England openers then blazed away to the target of 58 runs in exactly 58 balls without losing a wicket, handing Team India a morale-shattering loss.
Thus, the test match ended in less than three and a half days and MSD’s call for a rank turner had backfired on his own team. The critics true to their duty raised uncomfortable questions in a jiffy. 2 under-performing spinners, a misfiring Master Blaster, an unsettled opening pair (which can never fire in unison), an ageing frontline seamer and to top it all, highly defensive captaincy. However, when the selectors sat down to pick the squad for Eden Gardens (starting 5th December), there wasn’t a single change barring the replacement for an injured Umesh Yadav. It may be a faint sense of relief for the average Indian fan when Dhoni seemed nonplussed at all interactions after the ignominious debacle. Nevertheless, all the concerns above demand a strong and comprehensive reply while the selections continue to baffle.
Among the spinners, only Ojha seems to have good knowledge of the lengths to bowl but on tailor made conditions, Bhajji and Ashwin came a cropper. This begs the question whether India missed the trick by not picking any leg spinner for this series. The next question is the one which nobody would ever dare to answer: “Exit Plan for Sachin”. Not a single hundred for the last 28 innings for a batsman of the caliber of Tendulkar means that an exit plan should soon be in place to phase out the Little Master from the Test team. It would be very damaging for the prospects of Team India to focus on an individual and give him an extended period to resurrect his poor form. The goals of the team has to come first and in my opinion, the next Test should be “perform or exit gracefully” for Sachin Tendulkar. An ultimatum also needs to be served to Gambhir to improve dramatically in the time before the Kolkata Test so that a healthy opening stand can see the light of the day. Kohli must do something to guard against throwing his wicket on bad balls while Yuvraj has to show better application while playing spin early on in his innings. The less said about MSD the better, as no one can predict as to how his next innings would pan out. He however, needs to learn a trick or two from Alastair Cook on the nuances of leading from the front. The spinners should look to bowl in clever partnerships, if one aims to cut the runs, the other should attack all guns blazing to eke out wickets regularly. They must determine the right lengths and pace to bowl on the wicket that is provided. Having world class spinners on your side but not utilizing the conditions to the fullest is not good cricket sense by any means. Zaheer Khan shouldn’t be content with bowling restrictively as he is expected to provide breakthroughs being the frontline pacer. He is the one who should look to carve a niche for himself amid tracks heavily loaded in favour of spinners.
Most important, the Indians appeared quite complacent after winning Ahmedabad. This is where MSD needs to steer his men out as they are always found wanting after any victory in terms of overconfidence. Well, the series now has to be perceived by India as a two match series which they need to win 2-0. Team India needs to banish its oft repeated approach on being content with just winning any series somehow. A big overhaul in the mentality of Team India would be when they focus on winning 4-0 rather than being satisfied with a 2-1 or a 3-1. That thought could be put on the backburner for the time being as India continues to struggle with a host of problems.
Its NOW or NEVER!!
Its NOW or NEVER!!