Unleashing his acerbic wit, cricket correspondent Martin Johnson once observed; “The England cricket team has only three problems; they can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field.”
By the end of the series, the same could be said of the hapless Indian team that lost 3-1 to England, with an additional dimension; they’d also lost the will to compete.
There’s no disgrace in losing; it’s part of cricketing life. However, what is disgraceful is failing to compete to the best of your ability and continuing to make the same mistakes. That’s what India has done for the bulk of their last two visits to the UK and their most recent tour of Austrkericalia.
The latest English debacle was worse than those previous capitulations because India achieved a monumental victory at Lord’s. This should’ve been the springboard to a spirited attempt to stretch that lead but instead it became the top step on the slippery dip to oblivion.
MS Dhoni is a serial offender in those Indian debacles. In all three cases --- the first two full series and the last three Tests of the recent capitulation --- his captaincy failed to inspire the team. If anything, his schizophrenic style of captaincy contributed greatly to their demise. From the moment he went on the defensive on the first day of the third Test, India’s fortunes reversed quicker than a rat in retreat.
His reactive, asleep-at-the-wheel captaincy was in direct contrast to the aggressive, proactive leadership he provided at Lord’s. And it wasn't only Dhoni’s captaincy which hurt India. His wicket-keeping has regressed to the point where it’s not only adversely affecting the bowlers but also the slip cordon. First slip is a hazardous zone because Dhoni has given up attempting to catch anything other than a straightforward gift on the batsman’s off-side. Not only does his inactivity serve to narrow the slip cordon, it also creates confusion in the mind of the first slip fielder.
Whilst Dhoni’s flaws don’t explain the woeful technique that caused an extraordinary number of chances to be floored in the slips, it certainly accounted for a few of the hard-handed mishaps at first slip.
Then there were Dhoni’s selections. I’ve never been a believer in the captain having a vote on selection; a say, yes but a vote, no. In this latest series Dhoni provided ample proof why.
His selection of Stuart Binny as an all-rounder was ludicrous. Then, as if his sole aim was to prove that point, his treatment of the player was baffling. Binny was rarely used as a bowler despite batting at number eight.
To pick Ravindra Jadeja as a frontline spinner is a serious miscasting. Then Dhoni proceeded to use him as a stopgap trundler at the Ageas Bowl in what looked like an attempt to prove he wasn’t a frontline spin bowler.
If that wasn’t confusing enough, his statement following the fourth Test capitulation; “It's never that the result is more important than the process,” was bewildering.
I have never witnessed a series decided by a team achieving the correct process 46 times to the opposition’s 43. Winning is important but two losses in a five-Test series aren’t a disaster, as long as they are accompanied by three victories.
One of India’s biggest headaches is finding a replacement for Dhoni as Test captain following the repeated batting failures of his logical successor Virat Kohli. The BCCI deserves to share top billing with Dhoni when blame is being apportioned. Their casual acceptance of overseas defeats and obsession with finance has led Indian touring parties to become comfortable and compliant. This is not compatible with fielding a hard-nosed, competitive team.
If India continues to bat, bowl and field poorly and fails to compete at full throttle under Dhoni’s lacklustre captaincy, then another capitulation is certain to follow against a highly competitive Australian outfit.