So India were outplayed by a far better England team and were comprehensively beaten in the first test match. I know people are talking about Zaheer's injury and also Gautham's injury and Sachin's illness as the reasons for this loss. But in my opinion, we lost it in the first innings with the bat. England had declared at 474, which is not a monumental score like 550 or 600 which only gives one team the chance to win. I was pleasantly surprised by Strauss' declaration at that competitive score. If India had got around 600 in the first innings or even 550, things could have been very different and Strauss would have faced a lot of flak. But he backed his strong bowling unit and I suspect, the fact that India start poorly in any test series and looked to have not come to terms with the English conditions. I doubt he will declare at this score in venues like Trent Bridge and Oval.
Anyway, to come back to the Indian first innings, other than Dravid, not one batsmen looked too comfortable and score big. Mukund was looking very good, but got out in the most unlucky manner, dragging a wide ball to the stumps. In fact, the one facet I have noticed about Mukund's batting is that he looks quite good at the crease and calms the nerves of the viewers and I am sure, the dressing room as well. But he has tended to get out when well set. I am sure it is a matter of time before he starts getting the big scores regularly. This is one guy who should definitely be in the radar for the opening slot, even more than Vijay. Sachin started well, but seems to have a mental block at Lord's and gets out when looking good for more. No matter how great a player is, sometimes even they develop mental blocks against certain venues or certain players. One prime example I can think of, is Roger Federer of tennis. Even when he was at his peak, he would lose regularly to Rafael Nadal. It had got to a point where all Nadal had to do was show up, and Federer would lose, irrespective of what stage in the tournament they were, or the type of court they played in. Sachin appears to have a similar mental block at Lord's. These things cannot be proven and if someone asks him, he will vehemently disagree and parrot out some stats and scores in other grounds. But I can think of no other reason why he fell in the 30s when looking good and untroubled in the first innings. I am sure his highest score of 37 was playing in his head and that made him anxious and he poked at a fairly wide ball that he would have left alone 9 times out of 10.
Coming back to the batting, Laxman fell to a strange shot in the first innings. I have never seen him flick the ball in the air for so much distance. His flicks sometimes go in the air, but only for short distances before landing and then racing to the fence. Again, it could be due to some inner nervousness on the part of the entire Indian team, particularly the batting. That also explains the tentativeness of Dhoni's batting in the first innings where he took more than 100 balls to make just 28. I think this hype about India starting slowly in away test series and the build-up of the potent England attack, got to the Indian team collectively and resulted in the kind of performance they put up. Of course, this is not the only reason, but in my opinion, could be one of the major factors behind the first innings performance.
Once we lost Zaheer, it was always going to be very difficult to dismiss the England batsmen twice. But I am encouraged by the individual performances of PK in the first innings and Ishant in the second. It gives me hope as an Indian fan that this England team can be bowled out twice in a test match. Now if only Harbhajan can take some wickets and look more threatening with the ball. Dhoni has said he was impressed by the pace at which Harbhajan bowled in this match, much slower through the air. But to my eye, Harbhajan these days does not look like a bowler who can even trouble the top batsmen, let alone taking wickets. There is something missing from his bowling, whether it is loop or confidence I dont know. But he looks just a pale shadow of the bowler he was in early 2000s or even in the series against SA late last year.
It looks like Zak is not going to play in Trent Bridge. In my opinion, Munaf would be the right replacement for him. Even though Sreesanth promises a lot more wicket-taking ability, it would be too big a risk in my opinion to play him. Munaf is steadier and can build pressure from one end for PK or Ishant to take advantage of at the other. Sachin seems to have recovered from his illness, so he should play. I dont know the extent of Gambhir's injury, but if he does not play, I would continue to open with Dravid and play VVS at number 3. I have always felt that VVS is better at 3 than Dravid bcos he scores quickly and can take the game away from the opposition. Look how KP batted after getting set in the first innings and how Prior and Broad took the game away from India through positive batting even though they were in some trouble in the second innings. I have long maintained that one way to get out of troublesome situations is to score runs at a decent pace and not hang around. In places like England, you need to keep scoring because sooner or later, there will arrive one ball with your name on it and you will get out. Bowlers will always get some assistance in the air and off the pitch, so it is important to keep scoring and not stagnating. Look what happened to Sachin in the second innings. Granted he was recovering from a viral infection, but the way he was playing, I knew he would be gone any moment. At the moment, the only Indian batsmen who looks to keep the scoreboard moving at all times, is Suresh Raina. I am liking what I am seeing with his batting, the way he is playing close to his body and looking to play straight in the initial part of his innings. Also the way he looks to score runs at all times. We need more such cricketers in the future and then we will be well placed in the test arena even after the departure of the big three.
In fact, the one guy I really missed in the first test match is Virender Sehwag. When he is in the team, the entire look of the batting unit changes and the feeling in the opposition changes from respect to fear for the batting lineup. I cannot wait to see him back in the side. Hopefully, he will play in the third test.
Looking ahead to the second test match, I would not be too shattered if Gambhir sits out of that one. He did not look at his best even though he got starts in both innings. The other more crucial point is, he will most probably be replaced by Yuvraj. If Yuvi is fully fit, I am sure he will be hungry to do well and keep himself in the reckoning for a spot in the squads in the future, especially with Raina having almost sealed the number 6 slot now. Yuvi is another cricketer who will not hang around and will look to score runs all the time. But the biggest plus for India will be his bowling. Dhoni kept saying that they missed having someone like Sehwag or Yuvi who are decent replacement/fill-in bowlers (unlike himself :). Trent Bridge should also be a good track for batting, and if the weather holds up like it did at Lord's, I hope the Indian batsmen can put up a much better performance now that they are rid of their first match blues as well.
My primary goal at the start of this test series was that India should not lose by a 2 game margin, which would ensure England took over the number 1 ranking in tests. So if England win the series 2-0 or 3-1, then they will become number 1 in tests. I am hopeful that that will still not happen and that India can at least draw the series from here.
Lets hear it from you guys out there. Did you watch the first test match and what do you think are the reasons for India's loss ? What do you reckon are India's chances in the second test match and the series ? My next post will be after the second test match, so stay tuned.