A highly anticipated, competitive and an intriguing series will end tomorrow. In what has been an absorbing 4 weeks or so we saw the difference between the mental approaches of the two sides ultimately translate into which side directed momentum in its favor at crucial moments. After the experiences of UAE and Sri Lanka, England finally managed to get things right in terms of results, as there was never a deviation in the way they shaped themselves up for each of these testing tours. If you had to be critical of this Cook-led side, the approach in the last test could be questioned, but then you don’t get too many opportunities to have a stake at series wins in the sub-continent!
India was expected to come back stronger after the disastrous away tours, but it turns out that the team wasn’t prepared to face a determined, disciplined team. Fragment the analysis to realize that there was a sense of sameness to the mistakes that happened. The batting failed too often, the bowling was decent in general but lacked the fire and penetration that is necessary to create opportunities to win test matches. The leadership appeared jaded, the fielding for most periods lethargic, the vocal chords in the field were dry and the shoulders dropped too quickly.
Given that the team is going through a transitional phase, the frequency and the manner of batting collapses can be termed as ‘a matter of concern’ rather than ‘alarming’. The strong batting line-up (on paper) is woefully missing a sponge in the middle order to absorb all the pressure and a pivot to control the innings. Virat and Dhoni tried to provide the spark to the worn out line-up at Nagpur, but even those brilliant knocks ended at a critical juncture, eventually discounting the stellar effort on the larger canvas.
There have been too many individual and collective failures to neglect or not rectify. The scheduling has been a bit of blanket for these issues to be addressed comprehensively - 0-4 in England was followed by West Indies at home, 0-4 in Australia was followed the IPL and the New Zealand series and now 2 poor performances have been followed by a spirited, energetic display at Nagpur! India has had many set-up moments in all this gloom to sit on and build something concrete, but somehow most of them have been allowed to disintegrate.
There has been a common pattern to the last year and half - slightly better performance once pushed to the corner! Does this trend arise out of lack of greater desire to win test matches? Lack of motivation? We don’t know how players react mentally to playing different formats, but the greater glamour associated with limited-overs cricket has somehow leveled ODI & T20 cricket performance ambitions with the desire to excel in test cricket. The Indian team has a common core for all the three formats and with IPL the players are on duty for almost the entire year. Perhaps this quantum of pressure-cricket has a role in players appearing to merely turn-up for test matches rather than jeed up on the first morning.
Indian cricket was struggling around 1999-00 and the match-fixing saga rocked it to another level. The inspirational Ganguly was handed over the mantle to lead an uncertain side with cluttered minds. It needed day 4 of the Kolkata test of 2001 to turn things around and set the bar for the following decade! The cycle has encircled and unless there is another Kolkata 2001 or a Perth 2008 as soon as possible, there is a greater probability that this slide in results/performances will not cease. The defensive field placings and batting approaches suggest that the players are diffident in the mind and a aggressive opponent have jumped on this weakness; lesser sides haven't had the arsenal to capitalize.
There is no dearth of potential in the players to turn the tables, but what is missing is the zest and purpose while coming out for a test match, atleast the body languages suggest so. England was the better team in this series and they deserved to end winners, but what was disappointing was the flat attitude of the Indian team which gave a sense that there was only one team prepared to grind. The vocal endorsement of the liking for turning tracks suggested that the team was working too hard on the opponent’s weakness rather than on its strengths and abilities. It is said that there is no shame in losing, but the way a result is generated shouldn’t be an aspect of questioning.