India win by eight wickets

India took a 1-0 lead in their four match series against Australia earlier this week, winning the first Test in Chennai by eight wickets. It wasn’t a comprehensive win for India though and there are still things that both sides need to address.

For Australia, the obvious problem was spin bowling. It looked like a concern when they announced their squad and so it proved. The pitch was a very dry, turning surface but Nathan Lyon ended up with just 4-244 in the match and 3-215 in the first innings. On a surface where even Ravichandran Ashwin took 7-103 in the first innings, it was nowhere near good enough. The usual response is that Indian batsmen play spin well and that even Warne struggled in India, but a cursory glance at the figures for England’s spinners just a few months ago shows that such objections are rather outdated. This is where Australia must improve for the second Test, but the problem is that Lyon actually is their best spinner. Even if they want to play a second spinner in Hyderabad that spinner would appear to be Xavier Doherty, a man best known for having a Test bowling average over one hundred. (His exact figures are 3-306, for which he can largely thank Kevin Pietersen.) The only other options are Steve Smith and a pair of uncapped all-rounders who bowl spin. None of them would appear to be improvements, however. This is going to be an ongoing problem for Australia and unless they get more seam friendly wickets they are going to need Lyon to step up in the next three Tests.

India would be well advised not to think that a return to winning ways means that all their problems are solved, however. It was certainly a decent win and one in which they did a lot right. But they were helped by Australia playing poorly and there are issues at which to look. The obvious one is that their openers combined for just 37 runs in the entire match. Gautam Gambhir was dropped before the series started, but his replacement did not do any better and the man (well one of them) who should have been dropped, Virender Sehwag, had another poor Test. The middle order, and in particular MS Dhoni, utterly saved them. Four hundred and twelve of their 572 runs in the first innings were scored by three players and whilst that is far from a disaster it must be a bit disconcerting given that only Virat Kohli is really a long term option. Sachin Tendulkar’s days are numbered and not numbered very high whilst MS Dhoni can not be relied upon to consistently rescue his side. As long as Australia continue to struggle with the bowling this probably won’t be a huge problem for India, but they will be a lot happier if more of their batsmen contribute.

But as obvious as the imbalance in the results produced by their batting order is, their bowling is probably a bigger concern. The pitch in Chennai was a turner and after the result produced there it’s fair to expect the next three to be similar. But the Indian seamers did not take a single wicket in the match and Australia did put up 380 in the first innings. India are relying on the pitches actually turning as much as they want and on Australia not improving enough with the bat to negate this. Both are risky assumptions and the Indian spinners have not shown a lot of menace on pitches that have not been tailored to give them extra help. It would not take much to go wrong for India to find themselves looking at a big total.

There isn’t a lot of time for either side to do much ahead of the second Test. I expect that India will use the result as an excuse to go in unchanged, but Australia surely have to make at least one change and give themselves at least more spin options. It would not surprise me if they made two or three changes, perhaps bringing in both Smith and Doherty plus the usual rotation of a fast bowler.

India drop Gambhir

India announced a 15-man squad for the first two Tests against Australia, apparently taking a leaf out of the tourists Ashes-preparation manual. The notable feature in it though is that Gautam Gambhir has been dropped and will play for India A instead. It’s not too surprising when one considers Gambhir’s overall form; he has not scored a Test century in over three years and even that was against Bangladesh. (Though he had hit two in three innings in Sri Lanka two months prior to that.)

But recently Gambhir has actually fared okay; he was the lone resistance against England in the second innings at Mumbai and went past fifty in the first innings at Calcutta as well. He finished the series with the second highest average of all India’s specialist batsmen, behind only Cheteshwar Pujara. Whilst that alone would not generally be enough to stay the axe, it is a bit surprising in the context of India’s general woes that it should be Gambhir who was dropped ahead of another. In particular, Virender Sehwag has been just as out of form and arguably looked worse against England. Sehwag has morphed into the very definition of a flat-track bully and has no answer to even slightly above average bowling. That doesn’t mean he won’t get runs at home against Australia, their bowling is so mercurial anything could happen, but of the two Indian openers he certainly looks less likely to make a recovery than Gambhir. And that’s just looking at the openers and saying nothing about a certain SR Tendulkar…

The other aspect of note in the squad is that Harbhajan Singh has been recalled as a third spinner, further underlining the lack of depth India have in the bowling at the moment. India tried many different options against England, including four in the Nagpur Test, and they had very little success as a group, even over the entire series. After looking at all those other options, the fact that Singh is still considered to be the third best spinner in India is quite damming. That said, Australia believe their second best spinner to be Xavier Doherty. For a series in India, the lack of quality spin options on both sides is very interesting; we might be in for some high-scoring matches.

This series may be the start of India’s rebuilding and dropping an underperforming batsman is certainly a step forward. But the Indian selectors have made a soft choice as to which batsman and the squad as a whole still leaves a lot to be desired. The series starts in under a fortnight and I suspect that if India don’t make some difficult decisions before then they will find themselves under a lot of pressure to do so shortly thereafter.

What next for India? (Part II)

Eleven months ago, after India lost the Adelaide Test and had finished their second 0-4 defeat in six months, I wrote about what they could learn from it and what they should do afterward. Now, after almost a year of keeping their heads in the sand and insisting that away defeats were nothing about which to be concerned they finally lost at home. After reading all the excuses and denials that have been piling up since they lost in England I am not sure that even this will snap them out of their complacency, but it ought to. (And if it doesn’t I am not sure what will.) If India want to get better they need to make changes and quite a few of them.

First up, MS Dhoni needs to be sacked as captain. The attitude of the entire Indian team has been poor for most of the series against England as it was last year when they were on tour. This may not come from Dhoni, but as captain he should be the one stopping it and keeping the side interested. Instead he is often as bad as the rest of them and the result is the sort of capitulations we have seen from India when they get behind. He deserves credit for promoting himself as India collapsed in the Nagpur Test, but before that (especially in Calcutta) he seemed disinterested and when England were batting for a draw he made no effort to attack and force the issue on the last day. His tactics in general have actually been quite poor; amongst other things he never seemed to recognise that England were actually playing his spinners quite well and decided to play four of them in the last Test. The only reason to keep him on is the lack of a suitable replacement and that is a problem. The heir-apparent is Virat Kohli but his temperament in the last Test was hardly that of a captain. But even he would be a step up from Dhoni (who now has only two wins in his last 14 Tests against England, Australia and South Africa) at the moment and India need to make that change immediately. Ideally the captaincy will go to someone like Cheteshwar Pujara in a few years; India need someone sensible.

India’s batting struggled overall this series. There were bright spots and they were up against very good bowling, but ultimately it was a poor performance. At the top of the order Virender Sehwag played only one decent innings and Gautam Gambhir could not convert any of the starts he made. Cheteshwar Pujara batted well at number three, but Sachin Tendulkar, Kohli and Yuvraj Singh all had variously poor series. There are only two who are crying out to be dropped, however: Sehwag has made an entire career out of batting in India, but now he is having difficulty even there. It is hard to believe that Ajinkya Rahane, with a first class average of 62, would not do at least as well and should be given a go if not against Australia then immediately thereafter. The other batsman who needs to go is Sachin Tendulkar. He has already clung on longer than he should have and he simply looks a shadow of the player he once was. His recent stats speak for themselves and as old as he is there is no good to be had for either himself or the team by staying on. Kohli was poor in the series overall, but he showed in the last Test that he could bat properly; he and Pujara look like the young players around whom India should construct their batting.

India’s bowling was arguably what let them down most of all. England have improved against spin, but it is still hardly a strength of theirs, however India struggled to make a major impact on England’s batting after the first innings of the series. Part of the reason for that was Umesh Yadav picking up an injury and missing the last three Tests of the series; he looked quite good in the first Test and India certainly missed him. This is something with which India might have some problems for a while; a lot of teams have injury concerns, but India don’t appear to have enough depth to really negate those problems. Certainly Parvinder Awana ought to have been selected for the last Test, but they don’t appear to have many fast bowlers demanding a run in the side and their spinners were at best average in this series. But how they must not respond to this is to recall Zaheer Khan. He is barely fit at the best of times and he has been distinctly unimpressive recently. There is no need for him to play another Test. Much the same goes for Harbhajan Singh; India definitely have better spinners than him and enough that he need not play again.

India will not go back to being a top side overnight. They are in a very similar position to that in which Australia were a few years ago as their stars aged and retired and they have to recognise that there will be a period of mediocrity. How they respond and build for the future will determine how long that period lasts; they they must recognise sooner rather than later that they cannot keep going off past records and achievements. The sooner they wake up to their current situation the better they will be in the long run.

India 1-2 England review and player marks

Ten months ago I stayed awake through the night and listened in horror as England capitulated against Pakistan’s spinners in Abu Dhabi. The contrast between that and staying up through the night in this series could hardly have been more pronounced.

England played remarkable cricket to win this series. They had a horror start as India piled on the runs in Ahmedabad and then England’s displayed their same problems against spin. To come back from that massive hole and nine wicket defeat was a massive achievement. After that they batted much better (actually they batted much better starting in the second innings at Ahmedabad) but more importantly they outbowled India. England’s spinners comfortably outperformed their Indian counterparts in Mumbai and then James Anderson took over in Calcutta and Nagpur. England’s willingness to adapt, sometimes ruthlessly, was perhaps their most impressive aspect. Stuart Broad had a shocking two Tests and was dropped despite being the vice-captain. England knew they had someone better. The same thing happened with Samit Patel; he did not play terribly, but England decided they had better batsmen to fill that role and Joe Root performed brilliantly.

That came in sharp contrast to India, who now have a lot of questions to answer. India’s selection throughout the series was muddled, their tactics were questionable and their players badly underperformed. They seemed to have watched England struggle to play spin last winter and at Ahmedabad in the first innings and then simply refused to believe over the next Tests that England had improved in that regard. They seemed certain that they were going to win the series and never responded when England started to get he upper hand. Their minds also seemed out of it. They showed some fight, but very seldom at times that were really important. When their chances of winning the series started to slip away in the second innings at Calcutta their entire middle order surrendered and left it to Ashwin to spare the humiliation of an innings defeat. On the fourth evening at Nagpur they lashed out at the batsmen and umpires instead of trying to actually get wickets before coming out the next morning, still with an outside chance to make something of the series, and doing absolutely nothing for five hours until they could shake hands. MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli showed admirable fight and application in their first innings at Nagpur, but it served mostly to highlight the absence of that mentality for the rest of the series.

As important as the tactics and relative mentality of the two sides were, however, England in the end simply outplayed India. Alastair Cook led the way and could seemingly only be denied a ton by dodgy umpiring. But six of the seven batsmen to get more than one Test for England scored a fifty in the series and so did one of the two who got only one Test. Four of them scored a hundred at some point and as a team England scored more than four hundred in three of their five completed innings. India managed to do the same just one time in six innings. Part of that was down to the bowlers; Stuart Broad aside, England’s generally turned in very good performances. They either took wickets or kept the batsmen tied down. India simply never had the same kind of control. Ashwin had a shocking series, Zaheer Khan was so bad he was actually dropped. Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha were the only ones to do much and even they sometimes looked helpless. India did not help themselves with selection though; picking Piyush Chawla for the last Test was mystifying and it was clear well before he was dropped that India had better bowlers than Khan.

England deserved their victory, their first in India for 28 years. My marks for the individual players are as follows (and unlike the Times I don’t think any of them played for Chelsea at the weekend):

England (88/150, average 5.87)
Alastair Cook* – 10
Perfect ten for the captain. To use the old cliché, he led from the front with the bat and would have finished with the highest average fro England were it not for Joe Root getting his runs with only one dismissal. He also led the side well; his tactics were good, his bowling changes were good and he did not let heads drop after the defeat in the first Test. Now if only he could get a coin toss right more often than once every six times…

Nick Compton – 7
It was a good, if unspectacular series for Compton. He batted solidly in the first three Tests and helped England lay an important platform in the first innings of the Mumbai and Calcutta Tests before getting the winning runs in style in the first and keeping his head on the last day of the second. His final average does not do him justice.

Jonathan Trott – 5
Trott had a bit of trouble at the start of the series; he was a little bit scratchy and got out to some good deliveries and some only mediocre deliveries. But he finished strongly with 87 in Calcutta and 143 in Nagpur to see England to Test and series winning scores. His fielding at slip followed a similar pattern; he put down a sitter in the first Test, but took some very good catches later in the series.

Kevin Pietersen – 8
Pietersen was successfully reintegrated into the England side and marked this by attempting to sweep a ball that went on to hit his off stump. But that was the nadir of the series for him; he went on to play the best constructed century I have seen from him on a very difficult wicket in Mumbai and followed up with a pair of solid fifties in Calcutta and Nagpur.

Ian Bell – 5
Much like Trott, Bell had a poor start to the series. He played a horrific shot in Ahmedabad and although he looked in decent touch throughout he got a bit careless at times to get out. He came through in the last Test, however, playing a vital unbeaten hundred to ensure England’s safety.

Joe Root – 8
Root looked like a Test batsman from the first ball of his debut in Nagpur. He came in with England in a bit of trouble and played very mature 73 to see England most of the way to a good total. He will certainly be on the plane to New Zealand.

Matt Prior† – 9
Prior was very solid throughout the series; he had few errors behind the stumps as usual and scored runs at an average of better than fifty. His biggest blemish was the terrible run out that precipitated England’s collapse in Mumbai.

Tim Bresnan – 1
Bresnan only played the first and last Tests and he had an absolute shocker in the first. He was not threatening and had no control. He was a lot better in the second Test, though could not pick up a wicket on the lifeless Nagpur pitch. He did cause problems and keep the scoring down, however, which was about all a bowler could do.

Graeme Swann – 8
Swann was statistically England’s best bowler in this series. He took a team best twenty wickets at a team best 24.75 average. He never had a single standout performance, but he was always a threat to pick up wickets and made the most of the Mumbai track in taking 8-113 in the match.

James Anderson – 9
Swann was statistically England’s best bowler, but Anderson was England’s actual best bowler. He could only keep the runs down in the first Test and had little to do in the second with the spinners bowling, but turned in exceptional performances in the last two Tests. With the pitches still not giving him any assistance he took six wickets in Calcutta and four in the only innings he bowled in Nagpur.

Monty Panesar – 8
Panesar was left out of England’s defeat at Ahmedabad, but recalled for the raging turner at Mumbai. He took his chance as well as eleven wickets in the match. His performances in Calcutta and Nagpur were significantly less impressive, but he was able to bowl long spells that kept the runs down and pressure on.

Jonny Bairstow – 0
Bairstow only played one Test, filling in for Bell at Mumbai, and contributed nine runs to England’s first innings total before playing a terrible shot and then failing to realise that he wasn’t actually out off it. It was a poor innings and he did not get to bat in the second. He’ll have to fight to get his number six spot back in New Zealand.

Samit Patel – 3
Patel played in the first three Tests as and never really did anything wrong. But he never managed to convert any starts of follow up the promise he showed in the warmup matches and was dropped for Joe Root.

Stuart Broad – 0
Broad was appointed vice-captain before the start of the series, but was troubled by a heel injury and bowled utterly appallingly in the first two Tests. He was then dropped for the fit-again Steven Finn and ultimately returned to England for treatment.

Steven Finn – 7
Finn bowled very well in the only Test he played. But two different injuries (the first of which had a recurrence) kept him out of most of the series. It was a blow to England who clearly missed his pace and bounce in the other three Tests.

India (46/150, average 3.07)
Gautam Gambhir – 6
Gambhir had a surprisingly good series for someone who came into it so out of form. He made a nice rearguard fifty as the rest of the side collapsed around him in Mumbai and similarly made a few runs before the implosion at Calcutta. But he never managed to do anything with those starts and also ran out two partners in Calcutta. He’s only a few overs of surprisingly effective rubbish bowling away from being India’s answer to Shane Watson.

Virender Sehwag – 3
Sehwag scored a blistering 117 on the first day of the series, then returned to his usual form making only 136 runs in the next five innings. A lot of this was down to his terrible technique, but he also was run out by Gambhir when he was looking dangerous in Calcutta.

Cheteshwar Pujara – 8
Started the series by looking like Rahul Dravid had in England. He scored an unbeaten double century at Ahmedabd before scoring a fighting 135 in Mumbai to get India to a respectable, if ultimately insufficient, score. He fell off from there (how could he not), but between incorrect decisions and being run out by his partner he still comes out of the series well.

Sachin Tendulkar – 1
Tendulkar’s top score in this series was the 76 made whilst trying to arrest a collapse in Calcutta. That much is quite respectable, but his next highest score in the series was 13 and he failed to get to double figures in six of his eight innings. He looks very much like a fading force and it his not clear what he gains by hanging on any longer.

Virat Kohli – 3
Kohli scored a fantastic century in Nagpur that rescued India from a position of considerable danger. It was a great innings in which he completely abandoned his usual game and just accumulated runs. But he waited until the last innings of the series to do that; in the first three Tests his top score was exactly twenty.

MS Dhoni*† – 1
Dhoni took some responsibility for his side in the last Test and fought hard for his 99. But his tactical deficiencies throughout the series were glaring and his selection muddled. As much as he fought in the last Test, he surrendered just as much in the third Test. He will be lucky to hang on to the captaincy.

Ravindra Jadeja – 1
Jadeja gets a very low score, but only got to bat once and was trapped by a vicious inswinger from Anderson. There’s really not enough there to judge for the long term. His one point comes from the wickets he picked up bowling.

Ravichandran Ashwin – 3
It’s very hard to judge Ashwin in this series. He was meant to be their main spin bowler and a decent bat down the order. But he was utterly innocuous with the ball and took his wickets at over fifty runs apiece. But he still managed to keep his batting average higher than his bowling one with some excellent rearguards. But those all came too late to help his country; he needed to perform with the ball and didn’t.

Piyush Chawla – 2
Chawla somehow took four wickets in England’s first innings despite bowling fairly poorly throughout. He was never threatening in the second innings and actually never should have been picked.

Ishant Sharma – 4
Sharma was India’s best bowler in the last Test and did okay in the third as well. But that was all relative and it was not a pair of Tests he will put on his highlight reel. The nadir was probably dropping an easy return chance from Alastair Cook, but his fielding overall was worse than lazy.

Pragyan Ojha – 6
Ojha was the only Indian bowler to really show up in the series and he finished level with Swann as the lead wicket taker in the series. Those wickets still came at a cost of over thirty apiece, however, as he was often made to toil during England’s long innings in the second and third Tests.

Yuvraj Singh – 1
Yuvraj Singh was apparently selected off a desire for a fairy-tale comeback story and a thought that he would be useful against Kevin Pietersen. But he has never really been Test quality and he showed that again in the first three Tests before being dropped for Nagpur.

Harbhajan Singh – 0
Selected as a third spinner for Mumbai, Harbhajan Singh took only the wickets of two tail-enders and scored 27 runs in what very well might turn out to be his last Test. Certainly he did nothing to suggest that he was still good enough to play Test cricket and did not even get a recall when India played four spinners at Nagpur.

Umaesh Yadav – 7
Yadav looked very good in the one Test in which he played. Unfortunately for India he then picked up an injury and missed the rest of the series. It was a story very similar to that of Steven Finn for England and like Finn India missed him quite a bit.

Zaheer Khan – 0
Khan is another who may very well have played his last Test; he managed just 4-213 in the first three Tests and three of those came in the first Test. For the most part England were happy to hit him around and happy to find him in the field as well; he was distinctly disinclined to pursue balls hit near him.

Calcutta, day one: India 273-7

The nadir of the day for England was probably a little over half an hour after the start of play. An hour before that Alastair Cook had once again failed to accurately predict how the coin would land and MS Dhoni unsurprisingly opted to bat. It quickly became apparent that all the talk of a sporting wicket with ‘pace and bounce’ was either mistaken or deliberately deceptive. The wicket was actually very like the one in Ahmedabad with nothing in it for the bowlers and even though the early morning conditions did result in some swing it was so slow and generally so late it had little effect. It was clearly a great toss to win and India were settling in with Virender Sehwag scoring quickly.

After that, however, it was England’s day. India gifted England the first wicket with a comedy run out; an absolutely terrible bit of miscommunication resulted in Gautam Gambhir not bothering to run for an easy third whilst Sehwag tried desperately to get back in his ground from halfway down the wicket. He failed and England had a vital wicket. From there England bowled very well for the rest of the day. There was still almost nothing in the pitch for them, but for the most part they maintained a very disciplined line and length and almost always contrived to be threatening. It is that last part which was important; it wasn’t just defensive bowling from England. Steven Finn was getting just a bit of extra bounce from his height and Gambhir in particular was having trouble with it. Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann got enough turn to make the batsmen think twice before doing anything too rash. The combined result was that the Indian batsmen got not only tied down, but actually under pressure and made errors.

But the pick of the bowlers was James Anderson. He was simply superb all day keeping the ball in the corridor or uncertainty and just getting it to move a bit and was the only bowler to actually take his wickets directly. Twice he managed to take the outside edge of a bat with a ball just close enough to the stumps to draw the shot and moving fractionally away. Just before stumps he then bowled a similar ball to Ravichandran Ashwin which nipped in and hit middle and off. He should have had a fourth wicket as well when he trapped Yuvraj Singh in front but it was given not out. Had there been DRS the decision would have been reversed. It was the kind of bowling we saw from Anderson in the last two winters when he defied unhelpful pitches and this time he actually got some of the reward he deserved. He will come out with a new ball tomorrow morning with a chance for a deserved five wicket haul.

The other wickets to fall were gifted to various extents, although as mentioned they were at least to an extent also the result of the threatening balls that were being bowled so consistently. Swann’s one wicket came when Singh played one of the laziest drives one will ever see to an innocuous delivery and managed to pick out extra cover. Panesar was the beneficiary of Cheteshwar Pujara playing all around a straight one and Gambhir trying to cut a ball that wasn’t quite there and that bounced a little bit more. In the case of Panesar, the deliveries had some merit to them and the wicket of Gambhir was borderline between bowler success and batsman error.

The day definitely belonged to England; the pitch has 450+ written on it and India aren’t going to get near that unless their tail bat extremely well. But England still have to finish the innings off tomorrow and then have to get up to a good score themselves. They have made an excellent start, but despite the fact that the chasing team has won the first two Tests they will still want to make sure they get a decent first innings lead to minimise the target. India’s 273-7 is well below par, but England are still a long way off a commanding lead even if they get the last three wickets quickly.

Who should open for India?

With all the selection questions for England it is easy to forget that India are hardly a settled side themselves. They appear to have managed to find a full-time spinner in Ravichandran Ashwin and a decent middle order batsman in Virat Kohli, both of which will worry England somewhat, but apart from that a lot of the questions that were prominently raised during India’s 0-8 tours of England and Australia in 2011 and 2012 are still very much open ones.

One of the biggest is that of their openers, who have been struggling. Of course it is not uncommon for openers to have a slightly torrid time in the more bowler friendly conditions of England and especially with England’s attack dismantling the Indian order indiscriminately in 2011 it was hard to place any particular blame on the openers, a certain king pair notwithstanding. But the problem for India is that their established opening pair of Gambhir and Sehwag have both been struggling overall in the past year and more. Since the start of 2011 they average only thirty for the first wicket and whilst it is better at home (as one would expect) they still did not manage any century partnerships against the West Indies or New Zealand, neither of whom have overpowering attacks. And perhaps especially worrying for India is that their openers particularly struggled against the New Zealand pace attack which bears many similarities to the one England will bring to bear in Hyderabad next month.

There does not seem to be any immediate desire for change at the top of the order, though Gambhir himself deflected questions about his and Sehwag’s form by saying they still average 53 together and ‘if 53 is not good enough, I don’t know what is good enough’. It may well be that the selectors will continue to give them lenience on the basis of performances in the increasingly distant past; such behaviour is quite common in all cricket and especially it seems in the current Indian set up. But Chetan Chauhan and Sunil Gavaskar also average 53 as an opening pair (in fact a higher 53 than Gambhir and Sehwag) and they don’t seem to be in line for a recall so perhaps Gambhir should start to worry.

I have said in the past that I would not ever play Sehwag in overseas Tests and that is still very much the case. And it is starting to get to the point where I would not play him in India either as he looks increasingly fragile. The one thing that keeps both him and Gambhir in the side at least for the England series, however, (for me at least, I doubt very much that the selectors are thinking along similar lines) is that the rest of the batting order is also in a state of upheaval. Dravid and Laxman have already retired and Tendulkar could at any time. As long as Gambhir and Sehwag are not performing so poorly as to be a clear liability I would keep them around if for no other reason then to keep some measure of stability. But they both should be on very short leashes and if they continue to get worse then stability will have to take a backseat.

India win by an innings and 115 runs

India put their most recent losing run behind them in fairly emphatic style inside four days against the Kiwis. I didn’t get to see all of the Test due to the time zone, but there were a few aspects that stood out:

– New Zealand were shoddy. This is something I’ve seen from them quite a few times, of course, and I think it is probably the biggest thing keeping them from becoming an average side. They have very little application with the bat and although their bowling was good their fielding was not. They have the talent, I think, to get better results than they do. But they just don’t seem to put in the work to get there.

– Ravichandran Ashwin is a decent bowler. It’s not wise to read too much into a result on an Indian wicket against a team seemingly determined to get a day off and his failures in Australia cannot be forgot. But one can only beat the opposition that is presented and Ashwin got very good turn and bounce. He still has a lot to prove, but it is a red flag for England in three months.

– Speaking of England, they may be slightly encouraged by the amount of swing and seam the New Zealand bowlers got. Boult and Bracewell in particular were getting a lot of movement in the air on the first morning and given the similarity of England’s attack it will be very interesting to see if the conditions in November are still conductive to swing.

– Virender Sehwag is an idiot. We knew that already, of course, but it goes to a new level when one does not even manage to bully on a flat track. He made a decent 47 and off of only 41 balls, but offered two clear chances and a few edges through the slips in that time. He didn’t take the hint though and got out trying to cut a ball that was too close to his body. He then went off rehearsing the shot, seemingly under the impression that it was the execution which had let him down as opposed to the shot selection. There is almost no other way to describe it apart from ‘stupid’.

– The DRS must be made universal. For all the arguments over the influence the DRS has had over umpires and whether it is correctly applied to close decisions, there is little doubt that it has achieved it’s stated goal of getting rid of the howler. At least when it is used. It was not used in this Test, of course, because the BCCI don’t like it. And so, after a year of discussing marginal cases and whether it was a good thing with front foot lbws we got to see the return of the howler. New Zealand were hit the worst by it, with two absolutely terrible decisions going against them. Guptill and McCullum both were given out lbw, the first to a ball that was comfortably spinning away and going over the stumps and the second to a massive inside edge. There is little chance that the result was affected, but it is still quite troubling and not the least because of what it says about the elite panel of Umpires. They do, of course, get more decisions right than they do wrong as well as getting more decisions right than most people would. But that is not really good enough at Test level and especially without some sort of backup in place. Right now, the only two really trustworthy umpires are Aleem Dar and Simon Taufel and unfortunately even they make errors and in any case they cannot be at every Test. Which means that some sort of review system is an absolute necessity.

The final Test is on Friday in Bangalore and it is hard to see any other result than another Indian victory. Even with quite a bit of rain, New Zealand did not come close to saving this Test and collapsed from 92-1 at lunch on day four to 164 all out before stumps. They have a huge amount of work to do and have the disadvantage of only playing a two Test series so they just don’t have the time. Though even if there were four Tests, I expect they would struggle.

Virender Morgan

Eoin Morgan gave a very… interesting interview to BBC Sport recently. He claims that there is no need for him to alter his technique in Tests because ‘[t]he mental game still stays the same. It’s worked for me in the past and hopefully it will continue to do so.’ That mental game has given him a Test match average of 30.43 with only two hundreds in 16 matches. Only the first of those hundreds, against Pakistan at Trent Bridge in 2010, was an important one in the innings either. To say that his mental technique has worked well when he has not significantly contributed to the side is ignorant, but to say that there is no need to chance his technique when there are clear flaws in it is beyond arrogant. It is into the realm of Virender Sehwag, the poster-boy of arrogant, overrated, flat track bullies. The last thing England need is our own Sehwag, KP is already close enough. It is a simple fact that is true of any player in any sport: if he can’t or won’t adjust to help the team then he ought not to play for the team. In this case he can go back to Middlesex, they’ve been promoted so he’ll have some decent attacks against which to practise, or he can go to the Ireland and/or the IPL and forget Tests altogether.

It is the last one which seems like the better route, both for him and the England team given the other quote he gave: ‘The Test series didn’t go quite as well as we’d hoped, but the one-day series has certainly made up for it.’ Really, Eoin? We were whitewashed in the subcontinent, threw our number one ranking into jeopardy and threw away any chance we had at being a properly dominant side for at least another five years, but a few ODI wins make up for that? If that is his attitude I don’t want him anywhere near any of the England sides, regardless of how good he theoretically is at limited overs matches. If he thinks ODIs are that important then he ought to go back to Ireland where he’ll get to play plenty of them without people asking questions about his Test form. We can’t have that kind of negative, complacent attitude infecting any of the young players who are coming up. It pains me to say this, but even Bopara would be better than Morgan now. It’s too late for this tour, but after England return from the UAE Morgan should never again be allowed to wear the Three Lions.

Compare and contrast

I’ve complied some quotes following England’s loss in Abu Dhabi and India’s loss in Adelaide. See if you can spot a pattern.

‘We also won 2-0 in India.’ – Virender Sehwag

‘It is a struggle to think of a loss that has hurt more than this.’ – Andrew Strauss

‘We make our own plans, and it didn’t click. It happens with every team, with every player. The time is not good for Indian team, for individuals, so maybe that’s why we are not scoring runs.’ – Sehwag

‘[…] we weren’t good enough to deal with their spinners; we weren’t skilful enough and we didn’t deal with the pressure well enough. We have to face up to those facts.’ – Andy Flower

‘”Embarrassed” is not the right word. Nobody has done any one thing faulty. We have not fooled or cheated anyone. “We are extremely disappointed” is probably the words I can use.’ – Ravichandran Ashwin

‘As a batting unit we have to hold our hands up and say we haven’t done well enough. We have been rolled over three times in four innings this series. There are no excuses – we need to be better than that.’ – Strauss

‘I think there are people that appreciate that once again things – dew, rain, everything – didn’t go our way. I hope that doesn’t happen here. I am sure it will not happen over a period of one month.’ – Ashwin

‘[…] these issues will not disappear and we’ve got to face them with skill and a bit of courage. We’ve got to be a lot better than we were yesterday. Each individual will have to work very hard in working out his method of scoring.’ – Flower

‘Everything is going to be fresh. It is going to be a different ball game. The colour of the ball also changes. Hopefully we could change our luck as well.’ – Ashwin

England have lost a quarter of the Tests away from home that India have lost. I Would suggest that they are thus four times as motivated to win, but I think that may be an understatement.

What next for India?

The past few months have not been kind to India (though I’ve heard many of their fans wanted England to lose more than Pakistan, so they’ll have some consolation). It’s been clear for some time that they need to make changes and I think after their latest result they may finally do so.

They first, and relatively simple, changes are to personnel. They have some very illustrious batsmen, but they are nearing the end of their careers, if not there already. There are at least some questions to be asked about every one of the Indian top seven, though some more than others. Gautam Gambhir is one of the least well known of the Indian batmen, but he is in the eighth year of his career and averages 45. It’s certainly quite respectable, but he has not made a big score for some time now and he looked badly out of his depth in England and Australia. (He was hardly alone, of course.) He has not done very much to suggest that he be dropped, but nor has he stood out. He also has the problem common to Indian batsmen of impatience to score runs, and he does not leave balls outside his off stump well. I would probably keep him around for a bit longer, but only until the replacements are ready. With Virender Sehwag, however, I would get shot of him as soon as possible. At the very least I would never include him in a squad to play outside Asia. He has no technique and does not even come close to having the temperament for Test cricket. He is the very definition of a flat track bully, averaging 61 in Asia and a miserable 36 outside it. Worse, he is one of the most selfish players in the game. He could be one of the best batsmen in the game, but he refuses to adapt his game in difficult conditions and throws his wicket away when the team need him to perform. No where was this more apparent than in the fourth Test of this most recent series. India needed to bat for over a day to save the Test, but he kept throwing his bat at the ball. He added 62, but he runs were purely nominal. India needed a draw, and he refused to even try.

The openers, Sehwag in particular, have consistently put India in a spot of bother early in the innings, but the failing middle order is probably the most pressing concern. The three pillars of Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman have had, at best, mixed success in England and Australia, but they are all ageing. Dravid is the oddest case. He was a class apart in England, the lone aspect of resistance. In Australia, however, he has been all at sea. He has been horribly missing straight deliveries and all of a sudden he just doesn’t seem to be seeing the ball. For a batsman of his record, especially as recently as last summer it seems harsh to suggest that it will end his career, but he isn’t going to last forever. Tendulkar is probably only out of form by his lofty standards, but at the same time he seems to have lost his touch a bit. He is batting very aggressively and is certainly making starts but is not converting them. Most of his dismissals have been the result of good bowling, but they still tend to be predictable. He does not seem to treat good bowling spells with the respect he deserves. Despite what some may say, he is not god or even Bradman and at the moment he does not seem to realise that. He has some time left in him, but I suspect he his age means will get will get worse rather than better. Laxman is the worst off of the three. He is the only one who has been quite short of runs in both series. Unfortunately for him and for India his career does look like it’s over. He hasn’t had his touch for some time now, and even if he gets it back he is old enough that it is probably not worth waiting for. Of the three, I would drop Laxman immediately. Ideally he would be encouraged to retire, but however the official announcement goes he should not play in India’s next series. Dravid and Tendulkar are more tricky. Tendulkar’s fame is such that he will certainly never be dropped, but it’s unclear if he will have the wherewithal to retire soon. There is also the matter of the ‘100th’ century to consider; as silly as the notion is they still take it seriously. I think he should go soon, however. He still has the chance to go before he is embarrassed and it would improve his legacy if he does so. Dravid is the most interesting of the three. He may have a fatal flaw in his technique, but if there is one person that India should keep to tutor young players it is Dravid. He is the only one who seems to really care about the team and the only one who has been willing to try to dig in and fight when it is needed. None of the others have shown the same type of desire or application and India need their young players to follow Dravid’s lead as opposed to the rest of them. He might benefit from moving down the order, but certainly I would keep him around for as long as is feasible.

The rest of the players are less of a concern, though Dhoni is a poor captain and Adelaide shows that India have a perfectly good replacement for him as wicket-keeper. The problem for the bowlers is their demeanour. They can get early breakthroughs, but once a partnership starts to develop their heads go down and they seem to give up. At what point in the Sydney Test Australia were 37-3, but it wasn’t long after that India seemed to be bowling for the declaration! There is no clear way to fix that problem, though Duncan Fletcher should be able to help. (And if he can’t, he shouldn’t have the job.) A different captain may also help, though the only one with the right mentality is Dravid and he is not a long term solution. For a clear demonstration of the gap in motivation one needs to look no farther than the statements made by Dhoni and Sehwag about the 8-0 combined thrashing and the statements made by Andrew Strauss after England’s horror show in Abu Dhabi. India need more commitment.

India will host England for four Tests in November and if they play the same XI there as they did in Melbourne they will struggle again. In addition to bringing in younger players, they also must find a way to bet those players experience in alien conditions. Suresh Raina was dreadfully exposed against the short ball last summer, but Kohli showed in Australia that it is possible for them to adjust. A season playing county cricket would probably do them a lot of good, though the BCCI are very unlikely to allow them to do so. At the very least they need more ‘A’ tours to places like South Africa and England. Ideally in a year they will have no more than three of their current top seven still playing; they will still have a bedding in period, but they will at least be on the right track.