In the end, we saw another spineless performance from India on a good track that helped England easily take the series 4-0. I am glad we did not draw this match or effect any kind of turnaround as that would have papered over the cracks and caused more damage than good for Indian cricket overall. I am also glad, as are a few others (judging by the articles in the press) that Sachin did not get his 100th hundred at the Oval, for the same reason.
What was sad to see, like I kept saying through the series, is not the defeats, but the manner in which they were arrived at. It has been a long time since we have seen such a listless performance from India both with bat and ball. I dont believe that one man (Zaheer) alone was responsible for our march to Number 1 ranking and all the wins over the past 2 years or so. So, in the same way, I dont believe that his absence alone took out the fight from our entire team. It did make a big impact, but what can be said about the lack of fight from the esteemed batting order, arguably the best in the world ?
In my opinion, the few points worth thinking about after this debacle regarding the batting order are -
1) Someone needs to spend a long time with Sehwag (preferably a psychologist) talking to him about the role that he plays in this side and how desperately we need him to spend time in the middle. For a batsman of his class, I dont think that is too difficult a job, is it ? All he needs to do is spend the first hour or so leaving a lot of balls outside off stump and only play shots when the ball is close to his body. Once he does that, India is automatically a much better batting side and has the ability to exercise control on the match
2) We must look at the seniors (Rahul, Sachin and VVS) and seriously consider the possibility of playing only one of them for the next year or so. It is not only about their batting, we are missing young legs in the field and as was evident in this series, their reflexes while catching have significantly reduced. Rahul dropped at least 2-3 catches and England were able to milk a lot of extra runs in the field by hitting to these senior players. As PK suggested in the comments section of my previous post, since we are batting poorly anyway, we might as well do so with youngsters in the lineup
3) The one definite fact to emerge out of this test series is that Raina has to go. He should definitely be in the plans for the future, but right now he has too many chinks in his armor to be a test batsman. That spot can be given to Yuvi or Kohli or Pujara or some other more deserving candidate who looks more comfortable against all sorts of deliveries
4) I know this may sound controversial, but I think the management and selectors need to think about Dhoni's presence in the lineup. He has done great things in the past, but his batting looks very ordinary at times at test level and his captaincy in test matches needs to be looked at more closely as well. Even providing some leeway for the horrible tour India had, some of the decisions he took made absolutely no sense like playing R P Singh at Oval and his stubborn support of Sreesanth. The major issue here is the absence of a replacement for Dhoni the wicket-keeper. There seems to be no one in sight who can do a competent job over 5 days. At least some thought needs to be given to having Gambhir as captain for test matches
5) It is also time to think about grooming a replacement for Harbhajan for test matches. I dont think there is much left in him at this point and it is time to look at bringing Ashwin in to the test side. We cannot brand players as ODI players or T20 players without giving them a chance in tests. They said the same thing about PK, but look how he came through when tried in test matches. In fact, his bowling and the spunk he showed with the bat were among the few positives for India during the tour so far
6) Last but certainly not the least, it is time to think about life after Zaheer. It is now clear that Zak's days are numbered and it should be left to him (in fact, he should be told) to choose one format and thereby extend his career as long as possible. Meanwhile, we should use him while he is around to first identify some future prospects and then groom them under him. To this point, I think it is a good idea to take a close look once again at Irfan Pathan. He provides us a wicket-taking option with the ball (provided he has got his swing back, of course) and also provides us with a very good number 8 or even number 7 if we decide to go with 5 bowlers
Lets hope some serious soul-searching happens as a result of the disastrous performance in England. If that happens, I think it will be a blessing in disguise for Indian cricket that we played and lost so badly in this test series.
On to the ODIs now. Contrary to what some people are suggesting in the press, I think India will do much better in ODIs and might even pose a serious challenge to England and win at least a couple of games. One key player for us is Virat Kohli. It was nice to see that he did well in the practice match against Sussex. He needs to spend more time over the next 2 practice games as it is imperative that he has a great series if India are to do well in the ODIs. The batting needs to revolve around him so that we can get big scores and put pressure on a confident England side. Lets hope the Indians give us something to cheer about in the ODIs after causing so much frustration and disappointment in the tests.
Lets hear it from you guys now. Do you agree or disagree with my points above regarding the future of the test team ? What other ideas do you have ?
My next post will be after the T20 match and before the first ODI, so stay tuned.