India's imminent fall from the top, judging by their swift capitulation in the first two Tests, has and will spawn many interpretations. They range from a team exhausted due to a rigorous tight schedule, to the lack of skills in the young generation to survive the vagaries of the most demanding
format of the game.
While all of this may be true, what is very surprising or in reality not surprising at all, is that no one is blaming the IPL, which devoured almost half of this Indian team, rendering them unfit for the battle ahead.
Not that it needs reminding, but just to refresh memories - which tend to get shorter like the T20 game - this year's IPL followed the World Cup of which India were the worthy winners. Key players like Zaheer, Sehwag and Gambhir were already nursing injuries even during the WC, but they still went ahead and played in the IPL. Not that others were in any better shape, but a combination of the lure of money and the fear of sanctions from BCCI became a justification for them to fulfill their commitments to the team owners.
For the WI tour, which could have been an ideal preparation for England, some key players woke up to the fact that their bruised and battered bodies needed rest, while a few others had to seek a surgeon's scalpel. The tour, despite winning the one-day and Test series, did not go well for India, as a bottom rung team challenged them in both batting and bowling.
A laughing stock
Even the reinforcements from India have so far proved ineffective to combat the formidable England team, with injuries to the players multiplying by the day. The World No. 1 side - let us not all of a sudden discover that India's ascent to the top has more to do with the jugglery of numbers and not their strong performance - has looked mentally jaded and physically exhausted. No wonder, the cricketing world is laughing at them.
The blame game has begun and at the forefront are some of the best known voices on TV - Gavaskar and Shastri - who are finding fault with everything the Indian players are doing, but there is not a single word against the board and the scheduling of the IPL. Since they are either on the payrolls of the BCCI or the IPL, they dare not go against their masters. It is profitable to find scapegoats in the players as annoying them won't affect their hefty contracts with BCCI.
For a board which looks at the game only in terms of profits and losses, Test cricket is an anachronism, something they have had to endure only because their team is the best in the world. Had this series not been billed as a clash between the champions and the pretenders, there may not have been such feverish public interest. And I suspect it suits the Board fine if India were to slide down the Test rankings as they can then focus on their IPLs without any guilt or fear of being accused of ignoring the longer version. If that was to happen, it would be nothing short of a colossal tragedy and it is because of that reason I am fervently praying that India makes a comeback in this series.