The Mumbai Test showed that when a team is highly motivated, determined and focused on the job at hand, crisis can be turned into opportunity. It’s characteristics of a team that is hungry for victory. And England has shown that they are hungrier than Team India.
Man proposes, God disposes
The plans of depriving the England batsmen practice against spinners in the run-up to the Test series has failed. The question to be asked at this point: Did the Indian batsmen play games against spinners on turning wickets? From what I know, most of the Indian players played in Ranji Trophy games before the first Test on good batting tracks. That, for me, is either poor preparation or complacent attitude. Everybody knew that Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni would demand turning tracks for the Test matches – in fact, pressure the curators to provide pitches that turn from Day One. When planning, one should also anticipate counter strategies that opponent would employ to negate the plans made for their downfall. However, the Indian batsmen were caught in their own trap at the Wankhede pitch – a track that had something for everyone.
The Indian spinners had not played adequate matches in the longer version and had not bowled long spells in competitive games coming into the Test series. And that could be one of the reasons for running out of ideas to break the match-changing partnership between Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen. They seem mentally fatigued bowling long spells in Test matches. As a consequence, they erred in line and length. They went on the defensive instead of attacking with accuracy – hangover of the overs-limit format. The Indian spinners have the requisite talent and skills, but they need to show adaptability and mental discipline – two keys to help bounce back in the series.
Dhoni won a vital toss and took first strike of the Wankhede strip. The script went wrong for India when a Sikh left-arm spinner – Monty Panesar – had the home team struggling. Panesar’s pace and accuracy of his delivery, as also the turn and bounce he got from the wicket had most Indian batsmen in copious trouble.
Chesteshwar Pujara yet again shouldered the responsibility alone as the more experience batsmen in the team succumbed to spin. Pujara’s partnership first with Dhoni and then with Ravichandran Ashwin – fast maturing as dependable all-rounder – took India to a respectable score of 327.
Cook yet again gave eloquent testimony that the Indian spinners can be tamed. And then Pietersen took the Indian attack by the scruff of the neck to batter them into submission. The variations he brought to the sweep shot were jaw-dropping. He swept square, reverse, and out of the ground. He pounded the spinners through covers, off either foot to come 14 short of a double hundred. Though the last four wickets contributed only 31 runs to take the England score to 413 on the afternoon of Day Three, the game was evenly poised with the possibility of all three results.
But Panesar played havoc and in the bargain showed that Indian batsmen are also vulnerable against quality spinners by running through the line-up. He pierced their defense convincingly as the Indian innings folded quickly on the fourth morning. England openers quickly scored the required 56 runs without loss to register a comprehensive outclass India in all department of the game.
I am of the view that what matters is performance and not seniority. The interest of the team is served by performance and not by experience that is rich but now unproductive. The latter has to make way for performing young players who will be the lifeline of the team in the years to come. The foundation has to be laid to give them the necessary international experience. But when the player is Sachin Tendulkar, a legend, it’s difficult to take the call as the cricket fraternity knows his ability to bounce back and inspire the next generation of cricketers to rally around him and fight back. Unfortunately, Tendulkar is experiencing an extended dry run, leaving him open to savage attack from critics.
The only way Sachin can silence these detractors is to regain his enthusiasm, energetic body language and positive mental frame. He should shut the noise out and focus on the challenges.
The time is ripe for Tendulkar’s bat to speak. And for us fans, to enjoy the genius of his batsmanship.