Limp India regress into retro mode
On a grim afternoon, everything around Trent Bridge belonged to modern times: flood lights, four umpires, a match referee, the DRS, international rankings, advertising hoardings and blimps. Amid the modernity, India were playing retro cricket.
For the most part of this second Test, India looked like they belonged not to a bygone age of general trendiness and cool that the best of retro represents, but a time of cricketing nightmares: when the travelling was mostly timid, the opposition bowlers always too much of a handful and India were always fighting against the tide.
Retro can almost always work in fashion and music, but in cricket it only translates into the worst numbers on a score-sheet. At the end of the Trent Bridge Test, India's numbers were dire: 0-2 down in a four-Test series, defeats by 196 and 319 runs, and totals of 285, 261, 288 and 158 so far. This was not the India of the perpetual scrap, the high bouncebackability quotient, the No. 1 Test ranking (in that precise order in terms of significance). On what turned out to be the final afternoon of the Test, as the wickets column on the giant scoreboard to the left of the pavilion ticked over ominously, Sachin Tendulkar, out for 56, could have been playing in the grim 1990s. At one end of the pitch was skill and intent of high quality. At the other, a revolving door.
Nottingham may well hurt more than Lord's. India, after all, began the game on their own terms: they won the toss and bowled in conditions that make seam bowlers drool and batsmen wince. They eventually dismissed England for 221 and took a first-innings lead of 67. Anyone who walked into the Indian dressing room at tea on the first day and told them they were going to be defeated inside four days by 319 runs would have been beaned with a bat.
India's miseries in this Test have been manifold, and they while they may begin with a tired list of injuries, fatigue and bad luck, they do not end there. Beyond the gloomy events of Monday, the tale of Trent Bridge resides in a sub-plot: India's inability to lift their game when challenged by England.
On the first and second days, India went into the final session in control of the Test. On the opening day, England were 124 for 8 at tea. On the second India were 215 for 4, trailing by 6. In the short passages of play that followed, England pulled off two grand, brazen heists. Before India knew it, the ground beneath their feet had moved and the territory of control in the Test had been stolen. Man-of-the-Match Stuart Broad was responsible for much of that but India's lack of energy, intensity and focus in all departments was a significant contributor.
When England attacked, India retreated. In the last two years, particularly since they went to the top of the ICC Test rankings, Dhoni's men have absorbed punches and found second winds. In Nottingham, they just ran out of oxygen; in both ideas with the ball and determination with the bat. After two days of swinging fortunes and enthralling individual contests, the third day unveiled the direction the game was taking.
India's lack of resilience was manifested in their response to two partnerships: between Broad and Graeme Swann in the first innings, and even more clearly when Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen saw off the new ball in the second innings. India lacked bowling options to help the seamers in the dry period from the 50th over or so up to the second new ball; in the second half of their second innings - from the 60th over to the 121st - England were able to score 308 runs. India bowled what one Test Match Special commentator described as "flighted nothingness" and "long-hop lollipops". India's seamers may have accounted well for themselves in the absence of Zaheer Khan, but to not to have slow-bowling options was reminiscent of Indian cricket's dark ages.
After a reasonable performance in the first innings, India's seamers found themselves overburdened in the second; they had far too little back-up and were given strange fields. There were deep points when new batsmen arrived, not enough close-in catchers, third man was conspicuous by his absence on a ground where plenty of runs were guided behind the wicket - Rahul Dravid's first-innings wagon wheel is an illustration of the zones the batsmen were aiming at in Nottingham. It was not just the placement of the fielders that hampered the bowlers. If the Indian fielding was to be shown in black and white, viewers would have thought it was the 1970s.
On the fourth day, the batting went into meltdown; not necessarily because the players lacked the character required for a long fight, but because some of them simply lacked the skill needed to endure sustained periods of pressure from England's bowling. Tim Bresnan, England's replacement for Chris Tremlett, showed off the weight and menace of his short ball and went through the Indian line-up like a boxer working his way past weaker sparring partners. Abhinav Mukund fell to pure poison, Suresh Raina to a rush of panic and Yuvraj Singh to a trap set up by some merciless treatment. MS Dhoni's wicket was emblematic of India's performance in the Test: just like his team had not offered resistance in the face of England's aggression, their captain did not offer a shot. Three of the top seven batsmen fell to unplayable deliveries; the rest made or were forced to make errors of judgement. In the last 11 years, India have lost their top six for a lower score only twice, and both times at home.
In the last decade, India have made definite progress but they must now prove they have not stagnated. At the moment, England are the team surging forward and their bowling in this Test was fierce and impressive; their fast bowlers have not only pace but also discipline and accuracy. It is only with accuracy that speed becomes a bonus.
India's defeat at Trent Bridge is significant and must be marked in memory because, for more than three decades, England has been one of India's least intimidating overseas tours. Since the 0-3 series defeat in 1974, India ; have not lost more than one Test match on a tour of England; after 1996, they have not been beaten by England in a series. Every tour, regardless of the result, has provided the stage for either a startling batting arrival for India, or a memorable performance.
Victory in 1986 remained the last overseas series win outside the subcontinent for two decades, 1990 brought Tendulkar, 1996 Ganguly and Dravid, 2002 a win at Headingley and the arrival of Virender Sehwag as a Test opener, 2007 swing, Zaheer Khan's zenith and a series win. Until Monday, India had not lost back-to-back Tests since their defeat to Australia at the SCG in January 2008; between then and the start of this tour they had played 38 Tests, won 18 and lost just six.
Remember this day in Indian cricket: it could mark either beginning or end. We will know in three weeks.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo