Like so many things, the greatness of the current Indian Test unit, the greatest the nation has ever assembled, is now a thing of the past. This is not the usual curve that sporting dynasties follow. And for all the hubbub, India’s performance in the recent days has not been evocative of a Test cricket dynasty by any means. The argument fell through the moment they succumbed to the South African side under transition. Now, with a crushing defeat in Birmingham, it has lost all steam.
The train that started in Gabba has come to a gradual halt, to a stage, where it needs serious rebooting and refinement. While it still remains a functional unit, capable of producing thrilling displays on good days, some areas need immediate attention, as was quite evident in South Africa, and now in Edgbaston, after they ended up conceding 378 in just 76.4 overs.
Going into day 5, there was still some semblance of hope for the Indian pace attack. They still had 119 runs to defend on an overcast Tuesday, and inspiration was everywhere. Just yesterday, they were in a similar situation, when Alex Lees and Zak Crawley batted with supreme authority and threatened to take the game away. Crawley’s ill-judged leave then brought his downfall, and within the blink of an eye, they were three down for 109 from 107 without any loss. A flurry of wickets. That’s what India needed again the next day.
But that’s not what happened. Half an hour into the morning session, and the victory was England’s entirely. Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow never missed a beat, crushing all hopes of an Indian revival with immaculate precision. Their scoring rate might mislead you into believing that Root and Bairstow flung the game away with disdain. But those who watched closely can confirm that both centuries were built on restraint and control, with a the casualness creeping up in only once the game became a formality.
Over time, a detailed analysis of the game will emerge, offering more insights into the exact moments that led to the Indian side’ meltdown, despite a high-flying start. But one thing is certain: the team built prudently on Virat Kohli’s own restless energy had stumbled on almost every possible momentous step. They failed to conquer South Africa twice, wasted two opportunities in England, and lost 2-0 in New Zealand. These results are not an aberration, or an unfortunate glitch out of nowhere, but sadly, a true measure of the current Indian test team, which is miles away from crystallising into an unbeatable unit.
In the pace department, there’s a significant difference in the quality of attacks with Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah as the only two fixed pacers. Mohammed Siraj’s hit-the-deck ability does add a different dimension, but he is not someone to be relied upon when the need of an hour is a long sequence of dry spells. He has averaged over 50 in South Africa and was largely ineffective in Birmingham.
The batting front has long been screaming for an overhaul. The pandemic, among many things, also brought an infuriatingly long lean spell for Kohli, who pre-pandemic, would score centuries just for kicks. That now, feels like a distant dream. It’s quite strange that the runs have dried up, but his aggressive, in-your-face persona remains intact, adding more gloom to his batting form. Blurring the fine line that separates passion and boorishness is perhaps his way of reminding the world that the bad times had little effect on his personality. But he needs to follow it through with results. Three years is a long time for an international player to find his rhythm, no matter in which corner of the world it has been lost.
India has failed to defend their fourth innings total thrice in the last three overseas games. It has been a patchy beginning for Rahul Dravid’s coaching career, which started with a dramatic capitulation against the South African side. The same bowling attack that led India to an iconic win Down Under has now been rendered toothless on three consecutive occasions. In Birmingham, they were too straight to Bairstow, and the rough was not large enough for Ravindra Jadeja to extract vicious turn and bounce from over the wicket. They still persisted with Jadeja for quite a long.
But this defeat is not the endpoint. Given the endless reservoir of talent they possess, one could also see the end of this era, as the beginning of another one. Call it opportunity or bad luck, the first of the truly greatest Indian Test side will be leaving behind a number of unfinished businesses for posterity. And in that, lies hope.
(Featured Image: BCCI)