PARTAB RAMCHAND | 24 AUGUST, 2018
To complete the happy picture was the impressive debut of Rishabh Pant
So the experts who have been crying themselves hoarse that India did not get their combination right for the first two Tests and that was the chief reason they lost both matches must be pleased that the tourists finally got the combination right which led to victory in the just concluded third Test at Trent Bridge. Then of course there were the cynics who pointed out to the lack of preparation for the Test series with the Indians playing just one first class match which was reduced to three days from four.
I on the other hand was always convinced that the reason for the defeats at Edgbaston and Lord’s was the fact that the Indians did not play up to potential. I mean we are talking about the No 1 Test side here playing against a team ranked No 5. Even if the home advantage bridges the gap England are not a great side to take a 2-0 lead after two Tests in a five match series. Indeed this England side has gaping holes in both batting and bowling but with the Indians playing below par they were able to cover up these weaknesses and come out trumps. The moment the Indians raised the level of their game the home side were exposed and the result was a comfortable victory for the visitors with virtually a day to spare.
On the eve of the series I had predicted a close contest while there were others who thought this was India’s best chance to win a Test series in England a feat last achieved in 2007. Much of the optimism stemmed from the fact that the squad had a balanced look about it. There was absolutely nothing to worry about the batting while the bowling had the right blend of pace and spin for English conditions. Even granted that the Indians have traditionally not been good travelers - proof being the recent reverses in England, Australia and South Africa - there was always the feeling that it was strong enough to match this England side and with some good fortune perhaps even clinch the series. After all England had been thrashed in the Ashes contest `Down Under’ and then were held to a 1-1 draw by a none too strong Pakistan team in the two Test series a couple of months ago.
The problem was that the Indians’ performance did not match up to the exalted status the team enjoys in the rankings. They were capable of doing much better and if the narrow loss in the first Test was heart breaking the humiliating defeat in the second Test by an innings and 159 runs inside three playing days caused the mood in cricketing circles back home to be one of anger and frustration. How could a team boasting of the No 2 Test ranked batsman in the world, a batting line-up that was an ideal mix of stonewallers, artists and technicians, a seam bowling attack that was perhaps the finest ever in Indian cricket and a spin bowler who has been setting world records in the last couple of years come a cropper?
The Indian team was too good to be too bad for too long and now that they have got their act together not only will the mood be upbeat in cricketing circles back home but one can warn England to better watch out. Twice before – aganst West Indies in 1974-75 and against Australia three years later - India have recovered from 0-2 down to level a five match series 2-2 only to go down in the decider. Now having tasted success they have it in them to match a feat that has been performed only once before in the history of Test cricket. In 1936-37 Don Bradman’s Australians converted a 0-2 deficit into a 3-2 triumph.Can the Indians then achieve the near impossible? .
It is not beyond Virat Kohli and his men. The skipper has batted in a manner befitting his stature and has provided the inspiration for his teammates. The pace bowlers are getting into top gear and Ravi Ashwin has proved more than handy with his off spin. Most important the fielding and particularly the catching has improved by leaps and bounds. In England where the ball swings prodigiously the slip cordon has to be sharp and not only take catches but make catches by showing remarkable anticipation and super quick reflexes. We saw all this at Trent Bridge and epitomizing this was Lokesh Rahul’s superb work which saw him pouch seven catches in the match. He, Kohli and world record holder with eight catches Ajinkya Rahane show pretty good understanding while standing in the cordon. .
Besides the catching, it must be said that rarely has the batting and bowling performed in unison and that was a really heartening aspect of the victory at Trent Bridge. Not unexpectedly Kohli was the star and he is in the form of his life. Leading from the front comes naturally to him and inspired by the captain the other batsmen all made valuable contributions. The bowlers too lived up to expectations and Hardik Pandya’s all round heroics was a bonus. To complete the happy picture was the impressive debut of Rishabh Pant who looks like a long term prospect.