Even after two straight defeats in the five-match series in England, India are still the worlds best Test side, ranked at the top while England are fifth behind South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Suddenly the International Cricket Council rankings look skewed if you are seeing through an English eye. But the fact remains that India have worked hard to get to the top with their remarkable record at home and in the subcontinent, just as England are now showing that they are not easily beaten in their backyard.
India looked as bad in the first two Tests in South Africa, despite their bowlers dismissing the home team twice in each of the three Tests. But they came back to win the third Test with a strong performance.
Four years ago, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team began well, drawing the first Test and winning the second when their batsmen looked so good. Their batting came apart in the second innings of third Test and after that they could not cross the 200-run mark in the any of the following five innings. The sudden reverse of form appeared inexplicable howsoever the England bowling might have been.
Will there be a turnaround likewise this time? Can India come out and show spunk in coping with the seaming and swinging conditions in a summer that should have suited the Indians with its heat wave conditions? They can and have three more Tests to do that.
For that the team management must show some intelligence in picking the eleven and the players on their part must show some grit in standing up to the relentless four-pronged attack of fast bowlers.
One can sympathise with the Indians. After two defeats they are in a state of mind that can create a lot of confusion while naming the team. Suddenly they find they have no trustworthy openers, leading to a brittle middle-order.
Murali Vijay, who started off so well the last time, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara looked in decent touch till that third-Test crash. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni held the lower-order with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami chipping in with fifties to give the totals a winnable look in the first two Tests. Remember Virat Kohli was a total flop in the series, raising question marks over his technique and temperament.
To his credit, Kohli worked on his game and in four years he is leading the charge. But now the others are not pulling their weight, making the team selection a difficult proposition. To add to their woes the former players, some of them are in England, are pulling in different directions.
Now the tour selection committee may be forced to bring back Shikhar Dhawan to partner another out-of-form Vijay and it doesn’t know what to do with Lokesh Rahul. In its desperation, it might toy with the idea of playing Karun Nair to remind the Englishmen that here’s the guy who has scored a triple century against them when they last played them in India. Who will he replace, Pujara or Rahane. It’s all so confusing to even think.
In that frustration India might throw young Rishab Pant into the deep end of the pool, but the only worry is whether he should play as a batsman or also keep wickets. It is not possible to play both him and Dinesh Karthik.
Karthik had a couple of issues while judging the catches going to the first slip, but the main issue with him is his loss of batting form, two ducks in four innings, after looking so good in the warm-up game.
Mercifully, the bowling is not creating a headache. Jaspit Bumrah is bowling fit and he should come in place of Kuldeep Yadav to join Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami. In hindsight, Ravi Shastri admitted that playing Kuldeep was an error judgment.
Any large-scale changes will leave the team in disarray at a time it should be thinking and planning to stage a comeback. It cannot be a case of trying out people just because the chosen ones have failed in two Tests.
Ideally, the experience and class should be considered to merit their selection, hoping they will come good instead of indulging in lottery of playing those chosen as back-up men.
England’s confidence is so high, captain Joe Root has decided to drop Sam Curran to accommodate Ben Stokes who is back after missing the second Test as he was attending a court hearing for fracas he was involved in Bristol last Septemebr. He was not found guilty of affray on Tuesday and he has rejoined the squad.
Tren Bridge is in Stuart Broad’s home Nottingham and here the pacemen reveled, but don’t forget India won here byh seven wickets in 2007, Zaheer Khan taking nine wickets.
India, choosing to bowl, dismissed England for 198 and then Karthik, Wasim Jaffer, Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman scoring 50s in a total of 481 in reply to leave England with little chance.
If only that Test can inspire the Indians!
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])