At least half the players in the Indian squad —- those not flying to the Twenty20 World Cup —- would have heaved a sigh of relief despite the disappointment on Saturday.
The gruelling 12-week tour of the U.K. is finally over. It was long and arduous, the end was adverse, but there were many reasons for cheer. India won the Future Cup with back-to-back wins over South Africa in Belfast. The Test series win, the first here since 1986, was a momentous achievement.
Finally, despite the NatWest series loss, it was an entertainer right through. Fighting back from 1-3 was a worthy feat, and there were some outstanding performances. India may have dropped to sixth in the ICC rankings, but there is reason to hope.
The better side wins
Slow starters and chokers at the end —- India did live up to the stereotype. But we cannot take credit away from Paul Collingwood and his bunch for a tremendous showing. England were far more balanced than India, who failed to resolve their conundrum over the ideal combination — six batsmen-five bowlers or seven and four. Then, crucially, England were an excellent fielding unit, India abysmal.
A stunning series
After the Lord’s game, both Dravid and Collingwood praised their teams for raising the bar when it mattered, and laid emphasis on “contributions from all over the team”.
Indeed, everyone pulled in his weight for England. Ian Bell’s ability to find the gaps at will was enviable, Pietersen regained his touch in the last two matches. Collingwood’s consistent allround show was crucial, Owais Shah’s maiden ton pulled England back into The Oval game. Dimitri Mascarenhas hit sixers as if playing with a rubber ball. Ravi Bopara and Stuart Broad stunned India in Manchester. James Anderson and Broad were exceptional with the ball while Andrew Flintoff was at his best when fit.
Plenty of positives
For India, the standout performers were the two spinners —- leggie Piyush Chawla and offie Ramesh Powar. They earned the skipper’s confidence to such a degree that Dravid bowled at least one of them in the Powerplays in the last five matches. And the two delivered.
Zaheer Khan, though he missed a couple of games, bowled with the intensity that had won India the Test series. Robin Uthappa played the most important knock of his brief career, the unbeaten 47 that helped India square the series. Yuvraj Singh was remarkably consistent and perhaps needs more time at the crease.
Best of all, our famous trio sizzled. Tendulkar, with his That 90s Show, showed glimpses of his wondrous past. Dravid finished the innings off well on a couple of occasions and Sourav Ganguly, despite struggling with the short-pitched stuff, hit out in his unique style.
The problem areas
But there were the negatives too, as Dravid conceded. “We have to look at our bowling at death,” he said. “Also, our batting when we lose early wickets, and obviously our fielding.”
Problems during the slog overs arose due to the inability of Ajit Agarkar and Munaf Patel to cope with the pressure. And when you don’t have a steady batting order, you are bound to struggle after losing early wickets.
The way forward
All this puts us back on square one. Before the beginning of the series, Dravid had said that he was worried more by India’s form in ODIs than in Tests over the last two years. The NatWest series showed why.
The problem is that Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly are the only key players performing consistently. In this series also, India won thrice when Tendulkar-Ganguly added over 100 for the first wicket, and each was a Man of the Match in the three wins. That’s the selectors’ dilemma — they are the consistent performers, but their presence means youngsters can’t get a look-in. It also affects the fielding in a sense.
Has the time come for the three to opt out of one-day cricket? In the Tests, though, India need their services for as long as possible. If we lost despite them being part of the team, what might happen Down Under at the end of the year?
Yet, it’s always better to lose with a young, developing team than an ageing one. But it’s unlikely they’ll be excluded from the team unless they take the call themselves. The big question is whether they will take the decision, which may prolong their Test career —- and also help Indian cricket in the long run.