The ghost of Lord’s returned for the Indian batsmen once again, under London’s dark grey skies. After being put into bat by the hosts, Virat Kohli’s men first capitulated at 107 all out in the first innings and then collapsed for 130 runs in the second to concede a humiliating innings defeat within two days of Test cricket in effect. The five-match series now stands at 2-0 in favour of England. Going by historical evidence, the series’ result could be a foregone conclusion already.
The NW8 district of the English capital had witnessed the first demolition of this kind in 1974. The squad comprised various members of Ajit Wadekar’s 1970-71 side, which had become the first Indian team to win a Test series in England. But it took England just 17 overs in the second innings of the second Test to send shockwaves across India. The visitors were dismissed for a paltry total of 42 runs – the lowest ever by India in Tests. The second match of the ongoing series might not have been as low-scoring, but Farokh Engineer & Co thinks it ‘hurts more.’
Engineer had top-scored for India in with an 86 in the first innings of that 1974 game. India managed to score 302 in that innings, Sunil Gavaskar chipping in with a 49. “Yes, we were all out for 42, but this performance has been much worse. We at least put up a fight in the first innings of that Testand I was the top-scorer,” Engineer told the Times of India.
Overseas batting woes
With Ravichandran Ashwin (33*) ending up as India’s top-scorer in the Lord’s Test, all batsman but Kohli have failed to register a 50-plus score in four innings now. The skipper had scored a fifty and a hundred at Edgbaston, his best ever performance in England.
When you extend the frame of reference to the other overseas series played this year – three Tests against South Africa – the comparison between Kohli and the other batsmen only becomes dramatically starker. India’s captain has has scored 509 runs in 5 Tests (9 innings), which is around 30 percent of India’s total runs.
The best run aggregates after him are by all-rounders Hardik Pandya (183) and Ashwin (142). Pertinently, 17 other players, including top order batsmen, have made a meager 1155 runs in 90 innings, which works out to an average of 12.38 runs per innings, according to Ayaz Memon.
Lack of county cricket
As much as BCCI would dodge the question, the deficiency of county cricket experience is directly proportionate to the Indian batsmen’s troubles on English soil. All of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, and Sourav Ganguly enjoyed long-enough Championship stints to get used to the seeming conditions.
The lack of technique among the current lot is clearly visible, while facing world-class swing bowlers like James Anderson and Stuart Broad (the likes of Chris Woakes and Sam Curran will also keep joining the party every now and then). Since 1996, there have been only five other Indian centurions in England apart from the aforementioned trio. Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane were the only members of the current travelling party on that list.
It was a telling sign of India’s lack of preparation when one of their most consistent Test batsman, Vijay collected a pair at Lord’s. He now averages below 15 across five Tests in 2015.
Previously successful Indian teams in England have not only participated in County cricket, but have also played enough practice games to get used to the Duke ball used there. The current bunch only got one game (against Essex) ahead of the series due to their Indian Premier League commitments and a jam-packed fixture list round the year.
Ganguly’s team played no less than five first-class games before drawing the three-match series 1-1 in 2002. The following squad to travel to England played three First Class games in 2007 before winning the Tests 1-0 under Dravid’s leadership. The last two visiting Indian squads (2011 and 2014) totaled three first class games between them and the result has been six losses and one win.
Cheteshwar Pujara was the only Indian batsman to participate in the County Championships to prepare for the ongoing tour. He found the going tough and his average of under 20 runs per innings bizarrely costed him his place for the opening Test. Such is the amount of scrutiny in the age of captain Kohli.
He has not played the same starting XI in 37 consecutive Tests now. And with India’s shenanigans at Lord’s, at least a couple of changes are expected in his 38th. According to the voices close to Indian cricket, this trend has dented the confidence of many squad members. Boosting underperforming players’ confidence by putting an arm around their shoulder doesn’t seem to be in vogue for the current team management anymore.
Lack of alternate voices
That’s the exact same reason why former cricketers like Bishan Singh Bedi have indirectly referred to alternate voices inside the dressing room. Even during the reign of Ganguly, followed by Dravid, there were always more than one power centres, which were at the core of that team’s overseas successes.
But as things stand today, Kohli calls the shots in Indian cricket and the ouster of former coach Anil Kumble was the final nail in the coffin of dressing room democracy. The players themselves might not recognise this, but the cracks are finally showing and it’s about time that power is distributed better.