December 7, 2001

A series whose fate looks sealed

Is this the weakest English team to tour India? It is a question that followers of the game will be asking themselves after watching the shoddy showing of Nasser Hussain's side at Mohali. While some may want to bestow that unwanted accolade on Graham Gooch's 1992-93 squad and old-timers may plump for Nigel Howard's 1951-21 side, there will be no doubt on one count: the bookies' odds on India making a second successive clean sweep against England in this country must have considerably reduced.


But a captain can only be as good as his team, and it must be said that Hussain was let down by both his batsmen and bowlers. To be candid, even with the return of Ashley Giles, I cannot see England bowl out this Indian side twice on home pitches; to bowl them out once for a moderate score would be an achievement.

Losing by 10 wickets in less than four days is bad enough. What has attracted adverse comment has been the manner in which the visitors went down so tamely. Lack of application might be one reason, but, overall, the visitors were just not good enough, and that makes it difficult to see any change in the scenario for the remainder of the series. The batsmen were as helpless as a butterfly in a gale, especially while negotiating spin, while their sub-standard bowling was quickly put to the sword by the Indian batsmen.

Whatever the limited batting capabilities of the side, it must be said that this is quite the worst bowling line-up that England have fielded in India. Hussain did what he could by way of tactics; realising the limitations and inexperience of his bowlers, he frequently had eight fielders on the off-side, and there was much strategic thinking on the captain's part.

But a captain can only be as good as his team, and it must be said that Hussain was let down by both his batsmen and bowlers. To be candid, even with the return of Ashley Giles, I cannot see England bowl out this Indian side twice on home pitches; to bowl them out once for a moderate score would be an achievement. The only hope for England in the two Tests at Ahmedabad and Bangalore is for their batsmen to come good. That way at least they can force a draw. In Mark Butcher, Marcus Trescothick, Hussain, Graham Thorpe and Mark Ramprakash, they have a quintet capable of big scores or long innings with proper application.

Unfortunately, however, the pitches at the two venues are reputed to be more conducive to spin than the conditions at Mohali, and that will be their problem. The best option for England would be to pack their side with batsmen and hope for a draw, for there is just no way that their bowlers can be match-winners.

Are happy days here again for the Indian team? You bet. What was that phrase again ­ tigers at home and lambs abroad? As widely predicted, a lop-sided victory over England will soon cover up the sorry showing of the team in recent months in Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and South Africa, and events in the first Test have done little to change the prediction. It was always on the cards that the Indians would prove too hot for the Englishmen. After all, only one visiting team has won a series in this country after March 1987, and a simple equation of events this year put the odds in the right perspective. India defeated Australia, who then went on to thrash England in England. So what realistic chance did England ever stand in India?

From the Indian viewpoint, things moved along predictable lines. Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly were among the runs, and Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble picked up the wickets. Deep Dasgupta's hundred was a bonus, and suddenly the problems of the opening slot seem to have been solved. Indeed, all at once there seems to be a problem of plenty, with Connor Williams and Sadagoppan Ramesh waiting in the wings. The return of Virender Sehwag and Javagal Srinath is bound to strengthen the team further, and to think that Sarandeep Singh must also be itching to get his fingers at the Englishmen. He may well get his chance before the series is over.

But the most encouraging aspect was the performance of Tinu Yohannan. The son of former Asian long-jump record-holder TC Yohannan bowled with great heart and a lot of fire. Granted that he bowled in rather helpful conditions and that he was guilty of spraying the ball. But there was no denying the fact that his pace and bounce were disconcerting for the batsmen, causing them to play miscued shots or make misjudgments. The selectors must be given credit for spotting Yohannan's talent early ­ he had played only eight first-class games before the Test ­ and taking the bold step of playing him. Now if they would only persist with him and not adopt the hire-and-fire policy that they have been guilty of so frequently.