The onus is on the Indian batsmen

Partab Ramchand

August 8, 2002

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India has lost the first Test of a series in England 12 times out of 14. The only exceptions are 1971 and 1986 and interestingly enough India won the series both times.


The present team can certainly take some inspiration from the 1979 squad, the only previous outfit to get four Tests in England. On that occasion, India was given little chance against an England team that, following the defections to Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, was probably the No 1 cricketing nation. India lost the first Test by an innings and 83 runs in four days, were shot out for 96 on the opening day of the second Test and yet heroically held on to draw not only that Lord's Test but also the two remaining games.
Actually Indian contests in England can be divided into two distinct phases with 1971 being the cut-off year. Prior to that, India played six rubbers in England (including the only Test played in 1932) and lost every one of them. Since 1971, India has played seven Test series' in England, winning two and losing five. And there has been marked improvement since the dismal initial record. Many times ­ in 1979, 1982, 1990 and 1996 ­ the series has been lost narrowly. On all the four occasions, India lost the first Test but drew the remaining matches.

The present team can certainly take some inspiration from the 1979 squad, the only previous outfit to get four Tests in England. On that occasion, India was given little chance against an England team that, following the defections to Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, was probably the No 1 cricketing nation. India lost the first Test by an innings and 83 runs in four days, were shot out for 96 on the opening day of the second Test and yet heroically held on to draw not only that Lord's Test but also the two remaining games.

That England team, led shrewdly by Mike Brearley, was, as I said, arguably the best in the world. But it is astonishing how India have repeatedly gone down in England to teams which are all too modest in their composition.

In 1959, India lost all five Tests, during one of the finest summers, to an England side which had been thrashed 4-0 in Australia just the previous winter. In 1967, England were not exactly on top of the world and yet India lost all three Tests. The home team were also a fairly mediocre outfit both in 1990 and 1996 and yet India again contrived to lose the series each time. Paradoxically, England were the best team in the world when India registered the historic series victory in 1971.

There was a time when the wicket and weather conditions in England were heavily loaded against the Indians. And while these remain factors, they are now not as pronounced as in the past.

Many of the current Indian players have had considerable experience of playing in England, either on previous tours or through their county engagements. Moreover, in the second half of the English summer, the weather is more or less settled and the pitches do not pose the kind of problem they may pose in May and June.

What's more, this is again a pretty modest England side. Their mixed record at home in the last few years underlines this. And then there is the growing injury list. The bowling, in the absence of Darren Gough, Andrew Caddick and Alex Tudor was pretty ordinary at Lord's. Now Simon Jones, inarguably their fastest bowler, and Graham Thorpe, arguably their most accomplished batsman (in addition to the already injured Marcus Trescothik), will be missing from the line-up at Trent Bridge.

If after all this, the Indians are still one down in the series after the opening game, a major factor has to be that they are not playing up to potential. They have allowed themselves to be out batted, out bowled ­ and out thought.

As I pointed out in a previous column, nothing will convince me that England's batting line-up is as strong as India's. The bowling admittedly has discernible weaknesses and it may lack the firepower to bowl out England twice. But India has the batting to draw a Test even if they lack the bowling to win it.

The bookies, in fact, had a drawn game as a prohibitive favourite on the second evening of the first Test with India 128 for one in reply to England's 487 and who could find fault with them for that? Virender Sehwag was going great guns, Rahul Dravid was batting in typically obdurate fashion and Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Venkatsai Laxman had not even picked up their bats to take on a bowling line-up that lacked both bite and variety. However, as is well known, the scenario changed dramatically on the third morning.

The fact of the matter is that India should never have allowed the game to drift away so quickly. It took a No 8 batsman with an average of 7.81 going into the match and a dubious record of once having registered five ducks in a row and a No 11, who has no pretensions to being any kind of batsman, to show up the failures of the famed Indian batting line-up.

Whichever way one looks at it, then, the onus is on the batsmen, more than on the bowlers, to perform. They have a greater reputation to live up to. As the stronger of the two departments, it is imperative for the batting to shoulder much of the responsibilities.

Again, the present set of batsmen can take the cue from their predecessors in 1979. On that occasion too, the batting was stronger than the bowling and so well did they perform that but for a couple of unfavourable decisions by the umpires, India could well have drawn level in the final Test at the Oval. There is nothing bowlers like better than commencing their job with a big total to defend. In these circumstances, even a toothless bowling line-up can perform like hungry lions.

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