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July 30, 2002
Thinking and planning can score a vital point or two over class and experience. I felt this, more than anything else, was drummed home so many times during the first Test at Lord's. That a player's proven skill can come to nought against strategy and tactics employed to exploit the chink in his armour is the paramount lesson which the Indian team management would hopefully have learnt at the end of the game.
Surely, on present form, there was little to choose between India and England on the eve of the match, a fact underlined by their standings in various rankings which have both the teams closely bunched together somewhere in the middle. And yet the difference in the end was 170 runs.
Two blows in three overs saw India pushed back and thereafter, only one team was in the reckoning. With each passing hour, the game drifted more and more away from India and before long only the margin of their defeat and when that defeat would come about was being discussed. The Indians came into the Test series like lions riding high on their triumph in the NatWest series but they retreated like meek, lost, clueless lambs. What a transformation!
Nothing will convince me that on reputation and potential, the Indian batting line-up is not stronger than England's. Led by the world's best batsman, the line-up continues with two more players who currently average over 50 and three more whose average is 40 plus. The sixth, a relative newcomer, has three half-centuries in six Tests. Between them, they have potential and class, skill and experience. How come then that India were dismissed twice for totals of 221 and 397 on a pitch that remained a Lord's beauty till the end and on which England scored 487 and 301 for six declared?
That a No 8 batsman, going into the match with a career average of below eight, could score an unbeaten century and put on a record 63- run last wicket partnership with a definite No 11 batsman is perhaps the cruelest comment on the failure of the main Indian batsmen.
It would be easy to say that the batting lacked discipline, technique, temperament and any other quality that one would care to name. While this cannot be denied, it must be admitted that the England team, led by their shrewd captain, had done their homework while there was not much thought process that went into the Indian approach.
Having led his team on a tour of India a few months ago, Hussain had observed certain weaknesses in the Indian batsmen's technique. In India itself he used Ashley Giles to bowl at or just outside the leg stump when Sachin Tendulkar was batting. Controversial though this method was, it was within the rules and no one can say that it wasn't effective.
In English conditions, Hussain was in a much more advantageous position to detect and then ruthlessly probe any technical faults. There was obviously a lot of thinking and planning in the bowling changes and in the field placings for each of the Indian batsmen. The astute Hussain, along with coach Duncan Fletcher had obviously spent a lot of time evolving the strategy and the tactics to be deployed and it must be said that they had the full backing of the bowlers. All of them bowled according to the set plan and they in turn received good support from the fieldsmen.
It was much the same with the bowling. The Englishmen had sorted out Ashish Nehra, Anil Kumble and Ajit Agarkar and predictably had little discomfort in playing them. Zaheer Khan with his probing length and direction, his handy pace and prodigious swing was played with due respect as the batsmen were aware that runs could be scored freely against the other bowlers.
Under thecircumstance, the bowling, for long the team's weak link, was mastered and nothing underlines this better than the last three wickets increasing the score by 130 runs in the first innings. The fact that only 16 wickets were taken while almost 800 runs were given away means that the bowling will continue to be a cause for worry.
It is high time the Indian team management came up with a strategy to chart out the fall of the England batsmen and the manner in which their bowlers should be played. This England team is by no means a great one but they have been allowed to play as such because of the lack of a methodical approach from the Indians. England proved the value of systematic planning and the sooner the Indian think-tank come up with a similar game plan, the better. Otherwise, England could well be in an unbeatable position midway through the series at Nottingham two weeks from now.