The performances of the Indian cricket team have been unpredictable. Just as one feels that they would accelerate and leave their opponents way behind after a scintillating performance, they seem to fall back rather than move forward.
One fails to understand the reason for it. The Indian batting has an experienced and well-acclaimed look to it. Each of the first six batsmen have shown to be world class and are proven entities. They boast of a fabulous pedigree of having got runs in difficult situations and conditions. The Indian bowlers are presently compared to the famed West Indian battery of fast bowlers of the 80s and ones that most teams would be happy to have in their armoury.
The Indian team is looked up as one that has the courage and determination of brave, unstoppable warriors of the past. Ones who would never say die and attack their enemies head-on.
These are characteristics that the Indian team has shown in their victories in Australia and recently against England in the second Test match at Lord’s. Every Indian player in the match at Lord’s contributed to a famous and historical win. The Indian side for the 3rd Test match at Headingley consists of these victorious players who looked confident, assured and in a positive frame of mind to do well.
One expected that in such a state of mind, India will come out with all guns blazing. Virat Kohli, after winning the toss, seemed unperturbed about either the wicket or the cloud cover.
His faith in himself and his batters was quite evident when he opted to bat, with four seamers at his beck and call.
India crumbled and were all out for 78, reminding one of a similar performance in Australia when they were bundled out for 36 runs in the 1st Test match against them in December, 2020.
India did fight back gallantly to win the series against Australia thereafter, and in doing so showed resilience and a brave heart that one admired and revered.
On their return from Australia, the Indian side was expected to crush the visiting England side at home, especially after their superlative victory Down Under.
In the very first Test match in Chennai in February this year, the Indian side was humiliated by England. Once again, India rose to the situation and won the series convincingly, erasing the bitter memories of both the defeats in series opening Tests in England and Australia.
India’s loss to New Zealand in the final of the World Test Championship in England in June 2021 was unfortunate, as the Indian team did not get enough time to acclimatise and prepare due to severe Covid restrictions.
A good month thereafter, the Indian team looked set to make a mark against England in the five-match Test series. The first Test looked to have gone India’s way but due to weather interruptions, petered out into a draw. India, from what looked to be a very difficult position, went on to win the next Test match at Lord’s.
One felt India were head and shoulder above England. Their only concern was the tremendous form of the English captain, Joe Root, and their never aging and feared swing bowler, Jimmy Anderson.
The Test series has erupted into a battle royal. Verbal remarks and short-pitch bowling between the two sides has made the duel an aggressive and unfriendly affair. This has turned out to be a fight in which India want to show their superiority, whereas England are geared up to take their revenge on their defeat in India. When words are exchanged against one’s teammates, right or wrong, every player directly or indirectly gets involved. This is the situation that the present England versus India series has moved towards and one hopes, it does not get messy in the end.
India presently are a very good side and considered as one of the best sides ever. Therefore, the unpredictability of their performance is quite baffling. Test cricket being a 5-day affair, one encounters conditions wherein the ball moves, swings, bounces, spins and on a weary wicket, behaves badly. This is precisely why it is considered a true test of a cricketer. The Indian batters and bowlers have shown that they have the skill and technique to perform at this level.
One, therefore, fails to understand how a side with such immense talent falls to such a low ebb when least expected.
One can blame the Indian side for arrogance, aggression and over-confidence but when a side succumbs to totals of 36 and 78 runs one wonders as to what makes a side with such potential wither away and dissipate so easily.
Cricket is a game of uncertainty. However, it is the consistency that finally recognises how good a team is over the years. The Indian team has all the fire power and credentials to be great. If India can show more predictability and erase days where all of them fail together, only then would they be called a truly great Indian side. Else, they too will be looked at as ‘Also Ran’.
(The writer is a former India Test cricketer)