India in England, 2007 July 24, 2007

Goliath's fear of the little Davids

India's big four are considered batting stars yet the bowlers who have been successful against them are the decade's half-forgotten names

Tim de Lisle

Cricket holds fewer mysteries than it used to, for several reasons. The commentators and their gizmos do a fine job of explaining it. One team can study another on their laptops. And they all meet more often than they once did. But some mysteries remain. Why does Geoffrey Boycott keep telling you that what he is telling you is something he told you earlier? Why does no country pick a different team for the different game of Twenty20? And why do the Indian galacticos keep getting out to English greenhorns?

At Lord's, three of the big four fell in the first innings to Jimmy Anderson and one to Ryan Sidebottom. In the second, Rahul Dravid fell cheaply to Chris Tremlett (albeit unluckily, as the commentators and their gizmos soon showed), Sachin Tendulkar managed only one great shot, and although Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman played their part in The Great Escape, neither was exactly MS Dhoni. England were missing their four first-choice seamers, yet India were bowled out for 201 in the first innings by the makeshift firm of Sidebottom, Anderson, and Tremlett, who sound more likely to draw up a man's will than to threaten his wicket.

Admittedly, the ball swung, and the bowlers controlled it well, in a way that Andrew Flintoff could have done with when he was trying to stop the flood of Aussie runs last winter. And you can't read too much into one match: the big names may well lord it in the next Test. But there is a pattern here. England have now done the same thing in four series running against India.

They have needed to, because every time they have been missing key bowlers. In 2001-02, Darren Gough and Andy Caddick both declined to tour for different reasons; they never did remotely resemble one another. Poor old Nasser Hussain was left with a new-ball attack of Matthew Hoggard (playing his third Test) and the young Flintoff (looking for his eighth wicket), backed up by Craig White (as much a batsman as a bowler in India) and, for one match, Jimmy Ormond (talented, but never given time to show it). Somehow Hussain made something out of this motley crew, and although England lost the first Test, they held their own in the other two.

In 2002, Hussain was again missing Gough for the whole series, and Caddick for the first two Tests. The new ball was again taken by Hoggard and Flintoff, supported by White and a brand-new fourth seamer: Simon Jones, who showed some raw promise (partly with the bat). This ragbag, plus Ashley Giles, somehow bowled India out for 221 on a flat Lord's pitch. England, awash with hundreds, set India 568 to win and bowled them out for 397. Ajit Agarkar made a hundred; the big four - or five, if you count Virender Sehwag - didn't.

For the rest of that series, the superstars reassserted themselves. Dravid made an immense hundred at Headingley, Tendulkar and Ganguly emulated him, Sehwag merrily blasted the shine off the new ball, only Laxman struggled, and India fought back to 1-1.

Back in India, this trend might have been expected to continue, although this time England's injuries were mainly to batsmen - their captain and vice-captain, Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick.

Flintoff took over, and he began with a decent hand of seamers - Hoggard, Harmison and himself, but no Jones. With Hoggard putting his hand up, as the players say, the galacticos mostly flopped: India were kept in the first Test only by runs from Wasim Jaffer, Mohammad Kaif and Anil Kumble, with Dravid helping secure the draw in the second innings. A match of no hundreds at Mohali was won by two bowlers, Kumble and Munaf Patel - who showed that Englishmen too could be susceptible to a debutant.

The series was India's for the taking at Mumbai, even when England made 400. Flintoff was once again forced to take the new ball with Hoggard because Harmison was now injured. Anderson was drafted in as third seamer, and did so well (4 for 40) that he opened the bowling in the second innings, when an unexpected combination of Flintoff, Anderson, Shaun Udal and the late Johnny Cash shot India out for 100.

Hoggard finished the series with 13 wickets at 17. Tendulkar averaged 20, Sehwag 19, and Laxman, who played one Test, didn't get off the mark. Ganguly was out of favour and only Dravid, who averaged 61, was himself.

It's not just England who get away with pitting understudies against these titans. The bowlers who have done best against India this decade include half-forgotten names like Daryl Tuffey (21 wickets at 16) and Cameron Cuffy (28 at 28). Nor is it just seamers. Besides Udal, Michael Vaughan has flourished against India, taking 4 for 120, while managing 2 for 417 against everyone else. In 2001-02, Richard Dawson managed a Test four-for at Mohali. And once Michael Clarke of Australia took six-for with his occasional slow left-arm.

The Indian stars are sometimes accused of being grand, but in Tests against England it is only Ashley Giles (11 wickets at 50) who has incurred their disdain. With the exception of Dravid, they seem unable to dominate. It's as if they know they are Goliaths, so they freeze when any little David comes into view. Anderson, a pie-thrower against Australia, was transformed into a world-beater at Lord's.

In their last 11 Tests against India, England have fielded 13 front-line seamers, with only Hoggard and Flintoff making more than five appearances. In the first innings at Lord's, India's big names were not just unsuccessful but tentative. With the ball moving around corners, the game was there to be won by one attacking partnership. They couldn't produce it; Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior did.

Individually, they have good-looking records against England since 2001. Dravid averages 65, Tendulkar 52, Ganguly 48, Sehwag and Laxman 32, so together they average 47. But given their class, and the bowlers' lack of it, that figure should be 57. Shane Warne never bothered these guys, but show them a journeyman county seamer and the galaxy falls to earth.

Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on July 27, 2007, 22:44 GMT

    Well i hope todays play shuts most of you up the English wihered against our pace attack which doesnt boast Malcolm Marshall, brett lee or Shoaib Akhtar. Hope the English press grows up.

  • testli5504537 on July 27, 2007, 17:57 GMT

    These days one can study the opposition on the laptop, but in case of newcomers there is not much information available to study. Hence the lack of enough information is probably the reason of the poor performance. And the fact that Indians do well against experienced players speaks a great deal about the homework they do!

  • testli5504537 on July 27, 2007, 17:34 GMT

    I think media hypes and people who dont understand the game believe it. Lets have a look at how the English batsman have fared against the Indian pace attack which itself is as raw as the English pace attack. Except for Pieterson in the 2nd innings of the 1st test all the english batsman struggled...and the way english batsman have fared in the 2nd test shows that an in experienced indian attack has troubled england as much as the indian batsman have been "troubled" by the inexperienced english attack. And for fans who keep on harping that "sachin has never played a test match winning innings as ponting and lara" i would like some of them or even one of them to name the test match winning innings that Ponting and Lara have played in the last 4 yrs.I am also interested in knowing how many matches did Lara win for Windies overseas? When i last checked westindies have not won a single test overseas for the last 7 years!!!!

  • testli5504537 on July 26, 2007, 11:25 GMT

    Indian batsmen just do not have the mental strength in Tests & ODI's (they have plenty in inconsequential matches) to stand up to any attack outside India. Also, when you look at the body language of the Indian batsmen when they are in the middle, they all are so serious and gloomy. They simply are NOT enjoying the game, perhaps always worried about losing their wicket and their corporate sponsorship.

  • testli5504537 on July 26, 2007, 9:08 GMT

    The human mind is so that it likes anything to do with tough things such as Politics, Establishment etc., Most of the people in this world spend time talking about Establishment and rankings rather than speaking about science. A very good bowler who is technically very proficient need not be a sucessful bowler.If I place a successful man in front of me and say please scale up to his challenge, I readily accept and counter attack. But on the contrary if I place a good bowler in front of a batsmen, he tends to lose focus on simpler issues such as playing straight ,late to counter swing. Most of these second rung bowlers technically good bowlers even though they may not be Worlds' Number 1 which explains why Shane warne is thwarted around for the challenge of upsetting a world champion and also explains why the Sachin's of Cricket get out LBW to people such as Monty Panesar , simply because they don't pay attention to technical nuances of the game.

  • testli5504537 on July 26, 2007, 8:57 GMT

    for sake of indian cricket sachin, sourav,& laxman should retire after the england tour. rahul is good for another year or two.

  • testli5504537 on July 26, 2007, 1:11 GMT

    The problem i feel is that indias batsmen have nothing to lose. If a tendulkar or dravid get small scores the selectors keep faith always just look at sehwag debacle he should have been outta there a long time ago. A good example is australia they dont care who you are you put together a string of poor scores and your out and have to earn your place just ook at michael slater. indias problem is too much politics if they dropped tendulkar or ganguly or sehwag or dhoni or any of their big names their would be riots and poeple would kill themselves. its only a game people try giving other batsmen the chance to shine get rid of internal politics and play for your country not your bank accounts and watch the scores rise!!

  • testli5504537 on July 25, 2007, 21:25 GMT

    I think its got to do with the attitude...i remember when i was a kid, while preparing for an exam i used to concentrate a lot on important topics, and skim through the not so important. and if the exam as expected concentrated more on the important topics and less on the ordinary ones, i would have done really well. but if for any reason, they decided to set a paper that had twists and turns involving the ordinary stuff, i used to struggle. i think the same for the indian batsmen. they prepare well for the big guys, but take it easy for the "understudies" and any captain that has even a bit of imagination and variation in his tactics catches on the wrong foot pretty easily. Except for Dravid, all the other indian star batsmen are to too lazy and skim through the "not so important" stuff with out concentrating. off late dravid has been failing because of the captaincy pressure else "the wall" is the only thorough batsmen that we have in our team. Instead of concentrating on the stars Rival captains should be more worried about the hardworking "Trying to make a place" kind of players who havent been bitten by the "chalta hai yaar" bug. if i was rival captain, feed the stars with conventional bowlers till they get one or two shots and make them feel good, then get the unconventional guy and watch the fun....

  • testli5504537 on July 25, 2007, 17:10 GMT

    This syndrome is cultural. Let me take you through what typically goes on in an Indian batsman's mind when he sees a white man - any white man - running down the pitch to bowl to him, He is first awed that he is on the same pitch with this white man. Second he is awed even more that the white man is paying attention to him by bowling to him! Lord of lords, this can't be happening to me a darkie - product of my misdeeds in my past life. And when he finally does fall victim to this "pie-thrower" of a white man, he is actually grateful for the opportunity of being his victim. These thoughts are a product of three very powerful influences. 200 years of colonial rule, a 3rd world inferiority complex and last and the most powerful, the caste mindset. No wonder the poor batsman is actually relieved to lose his wicket to this white man and also revels in his appreciation of a few good shots made against him. Before you white wannabes and other self righteous indignants jump on me do a comparison study of India's performance against non-white teams and against white teams and see if there is some truth to what I am saying.

  • testli5504537 on July 25, 2007, 16:48 GMT

    "I have nothing to prove"seems to be th talk of the day from the man they call THE LITTLE MASTER.Its pretty strange to hear these words from the great man.Well if he's got nothing to prove why not give way to the younger generation.India isn't still waking up to the fact that the '4' mainstay of the Indian batting is well past its best and when they retire it going to be a huge task to find replacements.Tendulkar's batting has been on a major decline for quite sometime now and well when the media comes up saying that its the age factor,wear and tear...HELLO how old is Sanath Jayasuriya,Murali,Vaas,Inzi,Hayden,Pointing,Gilly...the list cld go on..But if they dont have anything why are they still feared by bowlers all round..SACHIN TENDULKAR for the LOVE OF THE GAME sit down and give a thought or two on your form and decide whats best for you and the whole of India,and to the media "Please give these guys a break they know their job for better than you do yours"

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