March 22, 2006

India - England Test Series.

India lost the Mumbai test pretty comprehensively. England are elated and it is India's turn to do the soul-searching. Again.

Before the series began, England were the decided underdog. So even this squared series is a victory for them. But that is not all of the story.

Much as my irrational self deplores the fact India could not continue the 21-year winless streak of England in India, I sincerely believe that England richly deserved this result. If anything, I believe they deserved to win the series. They played out of their skins.

Having said that, let me now come to India's performance. From the start it was India's series to not win. I have no intention to take anything away from the English team. However, I believe that India lost the trick, and with a modestly better overall performance they would have won the series 2-0.

Out of the 14 days of the series (one day in Mohali was rained out completely) India completely dominated only two days (last two days in Mohali). England either dominated (or at least had an upper hand in) the remaining 12 days. Still the result is 1-1. And with another good day for India the result could have been 1-0.

Of course, not many test results have a good correlation with how many days were dominated by the winners. But this series is different. The fact that England dominated most of the series and only ended up with a 1-1 result shows how much better the Indian team was on the paper. On their two good days India were so good that they won that test match.

It is in this sense that I contend that India lost this series. Our failure becomes particularly stark when we consider the fact that our bowlers did very well given the conditions. Only the last two days in Mohali provided any real assistance to spinners and we made use of that assistance fully. In the rest of the series pitches were very well balanced and bowlers did quite well under the circumstances.

This brings me to the real reason for our failure: batsmen. The top five run-getters for us in the series are:

Dravid: 309 in 6 innings at 61.8
Jaffer: 250 - 6 - 41.6
Kumble: 128 - 4 - 32.0
Pathan: 121 - 5 - 24.2
Dhoni: 106 - 4 - 21.20

This tells a huge story. Two among the top five are specialist bowlers and one is the wicket keeper. Sehwag (95-6-19.0), Sachin (83-5-20.75) and Yuvraj (64-3-21.3) were big letdowns. Team management must be feeling pretty silly after dropping Kaif (91-1-91) after he saved the match for us in Nagpur.

A slightly better performance from Sehwag, Sachin and Yuvraj, say 250 more runs from the 14 innings that they played, would have made a huge difference. I am not saying much here. A mere 17.86 more runs per innings from them would have made all the difference in the world. Don't tell me that England bowled really well. Kumble and Pathan could bat alright.

Another thing. Our decision to play five bowlers, however well-intentioned, did not work. Not because our top order did not deliver. Because the fifth bowler was never really essential. In the second test Chawla hardly played any role. In the third test wickets were more or less uniformly distributed among all the bowlers (Kumble, Sreesanth and Harbhjan - 5, Patel - 3, Pathan - 1). Only Pathan did not get many wickets, but there was never any question of dropping him. It would have been hard to drop Patel, Sreesanth, or Harbhajan, but playing all of them was too much of a luxury for us. Anyway, this criticism is made with the benefit of hindsight.

So I must go back to my preliminary assessment and repeat: our batsmen failed us.


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