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What Went Wrong For India During Another “What-Could-Have-Been” Test Series On Foreign Soil

September 4, 2018

Could India have asked for a weaker England side for the 4th test at Southampton? English openers have been in the middle of a crisis right through the series. It’s almost as if their captain has forgotten how to score a hundred as he remains in quest of his 14th test ton having scored the 13th more than a year ago. Their middle order had someone to whom 4 was an uncustomary number to bat at. They had a keeper who wasn’t fit to keep wickets and a non-regular keeper who was having to bat at a relatively new position. Their fast bowlers seemed tired with their heads down while leaving the field at Trent Bridge and their spinners were never on par with India’s world beaters.

On the other hand, India, who went unchanged for the first time ever under Kohli’s captaincy, had every chance of rearing their momentum. Their openers had found some rhythm. Their no. 3 and no. 5 had found their respective ways to score and sandwiched-in-between there was Virat Kohli who had been batting in the form of his life. Two attacking batsmen at no. 6 and 7 seemed to have fitted perfectly in order to bridge the gap between the less attacking players at number 5 and 8. Adding to this, a wicket keeper coming at the back of an unforgettable debut behind the stumps, an all-rounder backed with his career-best bowling figures and the seamers pumped up by beating the Englishmen all ends up in Nottingham were all set go for glory. And much to their delight, the match was to be played on a surface that was hard, dry and full of spin. Could India have come any stronger?

However, despite having so many of such conducive forces in their favour, India fell to a 60-run defeat to hand England the series with a game still to play. Mind you, this Indian team has always put the same amount of stress on becoming the best travelling side as they have put to become World’s No. 1 Test Side. Though India are not far from being the best touring team, they would still want to boost their numbers outside the subcontinent. Because defeats in England and South Africa may have been marked as hard-fought games, but nothing matters as much as the results in sports. So in order to do so, India still need to tick off some boxes and as it happens, these are the same basics that they use so often and the same that they have failed to adhere.

Basic #1 – Getting off to starts

As they did in South Africa, Indian team in England too has shown that they get better as the series progresses. But the team can’t really afford to get into every series with a deficit to come back from. While the hallmark of every great team has been to stamp their authority right from the very beginning, India have taken time to adapt to the foreign conditions. So as they set their sights to emulate the greats of the game, they need to ensure that they do the same too. In the first test, they let a golden opportunity slip out of their hands and their frustrations took further hammering at Lord’s where they were literally blown away. It was only in the third test where they truly hit home, but by that time they had already put themselves under immense pressure. There was no margin for any error. With the series on the line everything had to fall in place. And to do it 3 tests in a row in alien conditions seems highly unlikely against England in England.

Basic 2 – Winning key moments

India had England on the mat in the 2nd innings of the first test where the hosts were reeling at 87-7. From looking at chasing around 120-125, India let Sam Curran counterattack them as the target mounted close to 200. India fell short by 31.

Even in the 4th test India remained on top for three days. In the first innings India looked in total control as England were reduced to 86-6. But from their the Indians let their opponents put up 246 at the end. They themselves were well placed at 142-2 before collapsing to 273. And again as England in reply were on 178-6 at one stage, India once more let the last four add almost 100 runs. It is almost inconceivable that the no. 1 team allows a home team three chances in three straight days to compete a comeback. It is not that they were undone by insane performances either. They let themselves down by gifting their wickets when in great positions. Even the bowlers blew hot and cold. When they were supposed to run through the English tail, they failed to deliver the sort of performance that was expected. If they keep doing this for long, they will soon find out, more often than not,  the quality players would grab such opportunities with both hands.

Basic 3 – Closing out games

Twice in four games India have not been able to close out games that were within their grasp. Agreed that the conditions have not been easy; they rarely are, to be honest, when you are chasing a decent 4th innings total. But that’s what sets the great teams apart from the rest. During India’s chase of 194 at Edgbaston only one player made a score of 50-plus, while chasing 245 at Southampton just the two batsmen went past that mark. India just can’t keep relying on one man scoring a big hundred to get the over the line. Of course they have got the players to do so, but such performances are extremely rare as they are equally tough. They simply need more players to stand up and deliver.

India may have set dazzling goals for themselves and emphasise that they want to start winning overseas, but until and unless they get the basics right, such a success could still found to be some distance apart. And that’s the reason why this series in England, similar to that of South Africa, will also go down as another what-could-have-been kind of a series rather than what it actually was. Neither South Africa nor England were as good as they have been in the past. But they have been just as much as they had to be in order to be able to beat India outside the subcontinent.

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