It’s hard to believe that the same English side that trounced India a month ago has now shrunk to one-tenth of its might. Was that victory at home a mere fluke or were they really up against a wiser and more determined force this time around? Those Indian players, who struggled to put bat to ball in England now dispatched the same English bowlers with utter disdain.
Most teams do struggle when they travel overseas because of the radically different conditions, but England’s misery in the subcontinental conditions has been of a different standard.
Yes, England’s overseas record has improved manifold in the last few years and their Ashes win in Australia epitomises their progress. They also did reasonably well in South Africa the last time they went there. While these performances instilled the self-belief in the team, it did precious little to hide the technical deficiencies, which still exist, to play in the subcontinental conditions.
In fact, their improved performances in Australia and South Africa don’t surprise me at all — the conditions in both these countries aren’t radically different from what England encounters at home. Yes, there’s a bit more bounce and pace in Australia and South Africa as compared to England but the conditions are still more suited to quicker bowlers.
English batsmen are brought up on a diet of seam-up bowling. Since the ball seams and swings a lot more in England, they are also taught to play in the second line and close to the body. These attributes, if acquired and held, shall continue to hold them in good stead in Australia and South Africa.
Pace and bounce minus the seam and swing is a lot easier to handle as compared to dealing with spitting cobras on dusty subcontinental pitches. No wonder, the English batsmen looked like fish out of water the moment the ball kept a little low. The slowness of most Indian pitches changed the alignment of their batting technique.
They either planted their front-foot too early and hence the weight-transference went out of sync, or were found guilty of waiting for a bit too long, finding it difficult to put any power behind the ball, since the bat failed to meet the ball at the appropriate moment in the downswing.
Since the English are not used to using their wrists to create gaps, they hit a lot more balls straight to the fielders. It’s mandatory to have supple wrists to find gaps on low/slow subcontinental pitches.
English bowlers also found it difficult to contain the Indian batsmen because of the little swing and seam on offer. Most English bowlers relied on pitching the ball slightly fuller hoping the ball would swing. They trusted the batsmen to take the swing into account and not play through the line.
But that’s not how Indian batsmen play on these batting beauties. Indian batsmen would throw their hands at anything that’s slightly wide knowing that the ball won’t swing or seam and will whip everything through the legs that’s pitched in stumps. The lack of feet movement, which is a bane in England, happens to be a boon in Indian conditions, at least in the shorter formats.
England may have achieved the top ranking in Test cricket but they still have a long way to go to attain the aura one associates with world’s best side.
(The writer plays for Rajasthan in domestic cricket)