India’s cricket reputation lies in tatters

August 14th, 2011 - 6:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Gautam Gambhir Birmingham, Aug 14 (IANS) Indian cricket was at an all-time high barely four months ago when they won the World Cup to go with their World No. 1 Test ranking. They have now been brought back to the earth by England, who have clinched the four-Test series winning the first three matches with on the trot.

It is not about losing the series or surrendering the status as the top Test nation that rankles, it is the manner in which the Indians abjectly conceded without even a semblance of fight. Questions are being raised about India’s very existence as a Test-playing country.

The assessment came after staggering defeats in the first three Tests. The Indians lost the first at Lord’s by 196 runs, the second at Nottingham by 319 runs, and the third at Edgbaston by an innings and 242 runs, the victory margin getting crushingly bigger and bigger.

Now India are on the brink of being whitewashed 4-0, certainly not the prospect many thought of when the team arrived in England for the series labelled as the ‘world champions vs pretenders’.

The brickbats are flying thick and fast and questions asked about the ability of the new crop of players. They are accused of making a killing from the Indian Premier League (IPL) and not striving to be top-class international cricketers. They have pushed Test cricket down their list of cricketing priorities. So much so, some top guns justify playing IPL hiding injuries and sitting out of important international commitments.

Sure, the players are not alone to blame, after all the IPL is the goose that lays golden eggs for the Indian cricket board, too.

Former England players have been quick to point out that India were “uncooked” and “underprepared” for such a crucial series. Test cricket does not seem a priority for the world’s richest board, they said.

England have been in top form since winning the Ashes last season, and looking at the potential threat they posed, India ought to have planned it all better.

India played just one warm-up match before the first Test and that is not enough to get acclimatized to the English conditions even though they are playing in the second half of the summer. More thought should have gone into the nature of the pitches where the ball seamed and swung alarmingly.

Worse, only half the team played in West Indies. Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Shantakumaran Sreesanth came straight for a tough tour after rest and rehabilitation following injuries.

The batting line-up that boasts of Gambhir, Sehwag, Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni has failed to put together 300 runs in any of the six innings.

The England bowlers were relentless with their accurate line, length and nippy pace. Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Tim Bresnan have made the most of the conditions and were unplayable at times, but the Indian batsmen, too, played into their hands by not applying themselves. Dravid was the lone exception, though Laxman and Tendulkar failed to build up on good starts.

“Indian batting line-up has not faced such a relentless attack and England bowlers have sustained the pressure right through,” said former India all-rounder Ravi Shastri. “It has been an ordinary batting performance.”

Adds Sunil Gavaskar: “England have bowled well in all three Test matches, they have got that extra lift, that extra movement. They have planned well against the batsmen with their field placements. They wanted the Test ranking badly.”

The question lurking is what will happen after the big three — Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman — hang up their boots.

India bowled well in patches, but losing Zaheer Khan to injury did not help. Zaheer’s injury management was a mess.

Praveen, Ishant and Sreesanth bolwed their hearts out, but lacked the bite and consistency against an England batting line-up that ran deep down. The spin department looks bare after the retirement of Anil Kumble. Harbhajan Singh did reach 400-wicket on West Indies tour, but he has been a pale shadow of his past.

In just a month, England have left in tatters India’s reputation as the top Test nation so assiduously built and maintained for 21 months.

Most importantly, it has taken years for India to improve their record overseas. In the last decade or so, India have worked hard to prove themselves in alien conditions and now they are certainly not seen as poor travellers.

Some of their biggest victories in the last five years have come in difficult conditions overseas. The victories at Perth (2008), Johannesburg (2006), Kingston (2006), Hamilton (2009), and Durban (2010) prove the point that they can bat on bouncy tracks.

In the last five years, India have twice won in West Indies (2006, 2011), they have been the only team to challenge Australia at home when the champion team was at its peak. Under Sourav Ganguly, India drew Australia in 2003-04. In 2008, they lost the Test series Down Under but with the reputation that they are an aggressive bunch.

They showed their resilience by fighting back after a massive defeat in the first Test to square the series 1-1 in South Africa early this year, winning the Durban Test.

As for Dhoni, India attained great heights under his leadership, starting with the victory in the inaugural Twenty20 World Championship. The good run has to end somewhere someday but not the way it has come about. It is his first series loss and ironically it has come four months after he had led the side to victory in the World Cup.

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