There are similarities in Indias defeat in the Birmingham Test and Pusarla Venkata Sindhu losing the World Badminton Championships final. Both were expected to win, yet lost.
Chasing 194 in the fourth innings, India had a great chance of winning, provided their skipper Virat Kohli stayed till the end. He got out just when India seemed to have weathered the first hour. In the end, 31 runs separated the two teams.
The victory and defeat can be seen in different ways. It can be seen as India losing a match they should have won and England looking at it as something their team badly needed in a five-Test series to push ahead.
In Sindhu’s case, people will start questioning her temperament, ignoring her opponent and two-time world champion Carolina Marin’s near flawless court craft and speed to wit, showing how fit she is.
Sindhu just could not press home the advantage of a handy lead midway through the first game. A game up, the Spaniard went on an overdrive in the second game straightaway and never looked like loosening the grip.
The result was a repeat of another major final at the Rio Olympics. Both know each other’s game too well and it is a case of which one seizes the opportunity first.
Sindhu looked good to win the gold this time after beating her conqueror in the last year’s final Nozomi Okuhara in the quarter-finals and another dogged Japanese Akane Yamaguchi in the semis, both in straight games.
At Edgbaston, just as Hardik Pandya started showing signs of confidence, hitting Stuart Broad straight past him and then whipped him through midwicket, Kohli thought he could relax a bit and play his strokes freely.
Not for the first time in his career did Kohli go well across to try and flick to fine leg to get full value for the shot, but he did not realize that if he missed he would be in danger of either getting bowled or leg before to Stokes. That’s because he got away with such audacious shots more often than not when well set.
This time the Indian captain didn’t, though he had just crossed fifty, and umpire Aleem Dar raised his left-hand index finger the moment the ball missed Kohli’s bat, though the replay showed the ball was hitting just the leg stump and that was good enough to seal India’s fate.
This was not the first time the England team was bailed out by Stokes. Pundits following English cricket counted quite a few where Stokes bowled critical overs to get crucial wickets to bowl his team to victory.
In his post-match comments, England skipper Joe Root quipped: “Stokesy’s just got that knack, hasn’t he, he loves the big moments.”
If it is any relief for the Indians, the all-rounder will not be there for the second Test at Lord’s as it clashes with his trial on a charge of affray in Bristol that starts on Monday, Chris Woakes comes in for him.
India under Kohli gives the impression that they have resources to be gallant travellers, but they seldom look convincing. In South Africa they lost the first Test, failing to get more or less the number of runs they had to get in the Birmingham Test.
They needed to get 208 runs but they fell short by 72. None of the top-order batsmen got runs, Hardik Pandya making 93 in the first innings and Ravichandran Ashwin top-scoring with 37 in the second.
In stark comparison, India started the 2014 tour of England on a high note, the batsmen getting close to 457 in the first innings and 391 in the second. That took them to winning the second Test thanks to Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s six wickets in the first innings and Ishant Sharma’s seven-wicket haul in the second.
Thereafter, the bitter English conditions overpowered them and lost the remaining three Tests by massive margins without a semblance of fight.
As usual, the positives are being counted in defeat and yet they are in a fix whether to go into the second Test with the same team or any changes. The only ones who had acquitted creditably are the bowlers.
In South Africa, they had to bring in Ajinkya Rahane into the side for the third Test at the expense of Rohit Sharma and here they do not know what to do with him, citing that he got barely 100 runs in his last 10 Tests.
Would you believe the top-scorer in the second innings of the second Test against South Africa at Centurion was Rohit Sharma with 47, the next best was 28 by Mohammad Shami, and yet the Mumbaikar was shown the door, making it difficult for him to play another Test! All because he was dismissed thrice by Kagiso Rabada’s in-swingers and Rahane got in.
Will they drop Rahane now and bring in Cheteshwar Pujara who was benched because he was off form or will Dhawan be dropped to get Rahul to open. What about Murali Vijay who seems to have shed his style of safety-first by leaving anything pitching a shade outside off-stump.
Then there are issues of captaincy, too, particularly shuffling bowlers without giving a thought to the batsmen at the crease.
All said and done, plenty of cricket still to be played.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expessed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])