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India have won the first test against England, creating history by chasing close to 400 runs in the 4th innings. Prior to the start of the series, analysts had pondered over the fact that India was at World number 2 spot in Test Cricket, after defeating the Aussies 2-0. However, a Test series loss in Sri Lanka, and a drawn series against South Africa (at home), indicates that the field is still wide open and Australia, although not as dominant as they were during Warne and McGrath times, are still the team to beat. Will things change in the year or so?
Sure it can, India may well take over the reigns of the cricketing world, but we have to begin to get our analysis right. First, we can learn a few things from Tendulkar’s defiant presence in recent times. (I will do a complete round up of that after the English series, which is not won yet. Remember, it is 1-0 in India’s favor).
Toss plays a vital role these days, with the balance of the game in favor of batsmen. We must remember that the India-Australia matches (last year and the recent one), and the India-Sri Lanka matches, were won or dominated by the team which batted first. This is nothing new in test cricket, but the fact is that bowlers are finding it tough to knock teams over in the first innings. It has always been vital to get a good first innings lead, if not a decisive one, of 150 runs or more, and thereby give bowlers time to get 20 wickets.
This makes your team chances of winning or dominating, perhaps 9 out of 10 times. Much better to be in a 9/10 position than be in a 1/10 position – even though this 1 in 10 may fetch you glory… as it did today in Chennai. Suddenly Tendulkar has become the Rajnikanth of Chennai, as one TV channel put it (he has always been adored there, but I did not hear this earlier. I always rated Rajnikanth ahead, since piercing a fleeting bullet is a lot tougher than Tendulkar piercing the field).
So how did India fair in this match? This match explains a lot about our cricket team and what we can do and where we do fall short.
1. India did well to restrict England in the first innings to just over 300, when they had a good opening partnership. This somewhat nullified the toss advantage. India have incidentally, done well bowling first in Melbourne and Sydney last year. But the fact is that toss is a bigger advantage these days no matter who the bowlers are.
2. What was India’s reply? 30 for 3!, with Sehwag throwing it away and Gambhir and Dravid just about making a mess of the first over Swann bowled in his debut. Tendulkar and Laxman revived this, to reach 100 for 3, but then fell softly being caught and bowled.
Just think of it, if Tendulkar had made 75 odd runs and played about 2 sessions, like he has been doing recently to salavage a mess in the first innings (3 times in the Australia series), we would not have seen this historic day. The fact is that this time, Tendulkar actually let us down, after many brilliant first inning recoveries. His 68 in Delhi against Australia (1st innings of the 3rd Test) is the kind of play which will win you more often, but will not be seen as memorable as this Chennai 2nd inning grind. Memorable, but not desirable.
3. Finally Dhoni and Harbhajan, got India to 75 short of England’s first innings total. Just regulation batting in the first innings from our top order, should have given India, 75 plus over England, but it went the other way! The tail-enders have improved their batting, and one must say that at this point they are doing a fair job, perhaps above par to world standards.
4. Ok, so much for the first innings fiasco. But India just about took 19 wickets in the match, they struggled to get Strauss and Collingwood off the park. India with Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma , have done well to be a bowling attack which India has needed since decades, one that looks like getting 20 wickets and knocking off the tail. But be wary of injuries! Do not forget the backup bowlers, like RP SIngh or Munaf Patel, when we need to play 3 seamers.
5. Sehwag’s flamboyance in the second innings set it up? Surely, we needed a good opening partnership upfront. But was 83 of 68 balls the need of the hour? 60 of 80 balls might have been just as good. You might say that with Viru, it just works that way, he cannot control it! But his non-shot in the first innings was a contributor to exposing the middle order by the 10th over! Can we play Sehwag at number 3, so that orthodox openers may play out 15-20 overs when needed, especially overseas?
Bradman or Richards never opened, and yet they attacked as good as any in the history of the game. In recent times, Hayden was an explosive opener, but he also had an impeccable defence and could wait and leave the new ball. I do not think they will dare tinker around with the opening slot at this moment, but again, this situation is far from solved!
All in all, this match has brought about a lot of normalization in our lives, after the terror attacks in Mumbai. And just as our commandos salvaged a lot of lives, our batters salvaged a lost match. However, I would prefer that next time we nail the issues, in our national security and our batting as well, before it gets to historic proportions.
That is, if we need to be World Number One, as a nation or in sport.
Have a good night’s sleep Sachin, you have silenced those critics who never got it. Good for you, less nuisance from now. Just get back to your normal self and make sure they do the chasing in the next match in Mohali.
15 Dec 2008