Why

Why

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Anatomy of India-England Series

The game at Cardiff, Wales, was not a regular match for most spectators at the stadium. For the Indian fans, the result was irrelevant; they had gathered in numbers to see and see off history: cheering one last time for Rahul Dravid taking the field for India in coloured gear.
The journey began in 1996 and 15 years on, it was sheer joy to see the legend retire from the shorter version of the game on a high. A fortnight ago, he made his debut in T-20s for India and it was surreal to see him belt three consecutive sixes off Samit Patel. That was his first and last T-20 international.
And after two weeks of ODIs, the curtains finally come down on the one-day career of this cricketer who represented cricket in its original avatar: a gentleman’s game. The tally in the end is impressive beyond doubt — 10,899 runs ODI at an average of 39.16 with 12 centuries — and the parting shot equally sound: a well-compiled 69 to ensure India scored their highest total in the entire English tour.
So, on we come to the trip that looked much, much different two months ago. It was difficult beyond doubt for India, and while the players sweated even amid the chill of English summer, the tour felt scorching and stifling like the dry Delhi heat for the fans.
They were outdone by a resilient English side that has ambitions to be the number one in world cricket. They managed to achieve that in Test cricket, and with their performance in the One Day Internationals, the team showed they are well on track to achieve the same in this version of the game as well.
But England’s real test will come later next month, when they tour India to play five ODIs.
Reams have been written about India’s collective failure on the tour, especially in the Test matches. And the series of injuries did not help matters much. But it might not be down the barrel all the way through. After remaining at the helm of Test cricket for close to two years, the Indian cricket team and its management would have learnt a valuable lesson: never rest on your laurels, and while you are at the top, striving to become better is an ongoing exercise.
As they say, the challenge to sustain at the top is much greater than climbing the peak.
India’s defeat in the ODIs also showed some positives, especially the rise of Ajinkya Rahane, Parthiv Patel’s re-emergence; and R. Vinay Kumar and R. Ashwin also had a decent outing. The re-invented Ravindra Jadeja looks a lot more matured player than his previous avatar, and is a welcome addition to the team.
Without the senior players, it was good to see India performing well and with luck, they could have won a couple of matches. Overall the batting wasn’t as bad when compared to the Test series, but the bowling could certainly be a lot better, for the key to be a successful side is a good bowling attack.
Like in life, every cricketer has ups and downs, and this series must have come as an eye-opener for skipper M.S. Dhoni. It was his first series defeat as a captain in Tests. But for a man who led a side that has toured fairly all over the place, barring Australia, it isn’t such a bad record.
At the start of the tour, India lost Zaheer Khan on the very first day due to injury, and on the last day Munaf Patel left the field with injury.
As India lost yet another match, and England chased down yet another target, eyebrows will, however, be raised about the quality and depth (or lack of it) of Indian bowling. The bowling let down the batsmen in the ODIs, while it was the other way round in the Test series for most part.
If you ask the Indian skipper, he will be the first man to admit that a lot of work needs to be done and a better system of player management needs to be put in place to reclaim the top slot. Which is a good way to look at things: play to your potential, take each game on its own, and leave the panic button for the journalists.
No rash decisions are required; just prioritise and put certain systems in place to manage the workload of players.
I can’ recall the last time India were whitewashed, but Dhoni and Dravid certainly did stand out for India in the ODIs and Tests, respectively, by winning Man of the Series awards. It sums up the lack of support they received. After losing the Tests 4-0, outplayed in the lone T-20, the only redemption was a tied match in the ODI series.
Overall, a very disappointing series and considering India came into the series as the world’s best Test team and ODI world champions, it was sad to see their reputation cut short. But rising from the depths and looking up is what separates boys from men. So pick up the pieces and put the jigsaw right again.
While it undoubtedly is a long road back to the top, all is not lost. The important aspect is to learn the lessons, and learn them well. Even the great Australian team is undergoing a rebuilding process, and has taken some important steps to set things right after the disastrous Ashes campaign at home.
Let us give credit where it’s due: England has played outstanding cricket consistently for some time now.