Spectre of 2011, 2014 looms large

Spectre of 2011, 2014 looms large

The glum faces of Indian players and team's support staff provide perfect background for their gloomy situation in England at the moment. AFP

As India were going through another batting capitulation on Friday at Lord’s, a couple of senior Indian journalists in the press box were having a conversation with the same foreboding thoughts.

“Seems like it’s going to be a repeat of 2011 and 2014,” remarked one of them. “I just hope it’s not another away whitewash. Have seen enough of it. If India lose at Trent Bridge, it's better to return home!” replied the other.

If Indians continue to bat like they’ve done in Birmingham and Lord’s in Nottingham — venue of the third Test which kicks off on Saturday — then England will clinch the Pataudi Trophy at the earliest possible asking, leaving skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri with plenty of soul-searching to do.

Agreed, Indians got the worst of the luck and the conditions at Lord’s. Kohli lost the toss on an overcast morning and was asked to bat in hostile conditions. Even a team featuring best batsmen could have struggled on that seaming pitch and a menacing James Anderson but the way they folded up in the second innings was shambolic.

Conditions weren’t too treacherous and if the batsmen had shown some application and a heart for fight, they could have at least gained some confidence for the battles ahead. Batsmen after batsmen, barring Cheteshwar Pujara, just gifted their wicket away through a combination of poor technique and the unwillingness to take the fight to the opposition. Only Murali Vijay and Pujara were undone by near unplayable deliveries but KL Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane and Dinesh Karthik fell victim to poor shot-making.

The fact that both the Indian innings lasted a combined tally of just 82.2 overs was baffling. It means India were effectively bowled out twice within a day.

As World No 1 Test side, whose coach Ravi Shastri proclaimed that this team wants to be known as the best travelling unit, you are expected to do well even in alien conditions. Among batsmen, except Rahul, everyone has visited England before and by now should have known what to do to cope with such conditions. But shockingly, except Kohli, everyone’s looked inept.

Kohli felt the batsmen weren't clear in their heads while confronting the challenges on the pitch. “I don’t see any technical deficiency. If a batsman is clear in the head and he’s clear about the plans he’s taking, then if the ball does something off the pitch, you’re able to counter it. As a batsmen, as I said, I’ve experienced in the past if my head’s clouded then I feel like the ball can do this or that. It sounds cliched, but as the greats have said, keep this game simple, that’s all you have to do. You can’t come here and think the conditions are too difficult because they are really not if you’re prepared to counter them.”

Kohli also needs to sit down and think about his selection policies. The opening day was abandoned, rain was forecast for the second day and the final two days of the Test. But he picked chinaman Kuldeep Yadav in place of pacer Umesh Yadav and that blew up on his face. Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma had England in a spot of bother on the third morning but with no third pacer, India struggled to make further inroads. This reckless habit of chopping of changing personnel when it’s not really required needs immediate addressing.

One wonders what role Hardik Pandya is playing. While he’s a good limited-overs package, the Baroda all-rounder hasn’t been doing justice to the faith that’s been reposed in him. India should seriously consider playing an extra batsman, even a second wicketkeeper in Rishabh Pant, won’t be a gamble too risky.

Indian batsmen have less than a week to iron out their flaws before the third Test starts. It's too less a time but they have no choice.


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