India in England 2011 August 24, 2011

Low grades for sloppy India

Sharda Ugra assigns the marks out of 10 for India, after one of their worst series in living memory

Virender Sehwag - 2
He didn't feel ready, he didn't look ready, he didn't perform like he was ready. The selectors may have hauled him into the series out of panic, just off a delayed surgery. The longest he spent at the crease was in his last innings in England: a 77-minute second innings stay before Graeme Swann burst through the gate at The Oval. Sehwag was playing in his first Test after seven months and tried two approaches. The first led to a king pair at Birmingham, he will not forget and India never recovered from. The second involved spending slightly longer at the crease, being rational, measured. Sehwag's time in England was more than a poor performance, it was a sharp illustration of poor injury management.

Gautam Gambhir - 2
A series that could have been the making of the man who is quietly being considered the next captain of India has ended only with many questions. Most of them are around the matches he missed rather than those he played. When the series began, however, he looked like he had all the answers. He fobbed off the new ball at Lord's and Birmingham, only to give it away instead of settling in - once beaten by a swinging beauty from Stuart Broad and the other wasting his wicket in Birmingham after getting solidly in. The series concluded with concussion followed by blurry vision, nausea, vomitting which led to the inability to run in the first innings at The Oval, though he did face up for an hour to Bresnan, Anderson and Broad. In the second he ran, but couldn't bat long enough to hold out against the second new ball.

Abhinav Mukund - 3
Began the series with a confident 49 at Lord's but it went downhill in this three other Test innings on tour. For a young man who has played his first five Tests overseas, it is Abhinav Mukund's temperament that shone through in England rather the technique against the moving ball. He was the only Indian other than Dravid and Suresh Raina to score a 100 on the tour, doing so in the two-day practice game versus Northamptonshire. After which of course he didn't get to play in a single game. A total of 64 runs from four innings can allow him no more marks, though he does certainly deserve a leeway based on overall inexperience.

Rahul Dravid - 9
Obviously. Were these marks on batting alone, a perfect 10 would be a no-brainer. Dravid made almost a quarter of India's total runs in the series, more hundreds than anyone on both sides, each of his 461 a tough run. Now, tough guys may not cry but they may well laugh at this: somehow, on this tour, India's most prolific No. 3, ended up being India's most regular opener (five occasions as opposed to Mukund and Sehwag's four and Gambhir's three), two of his three centuries made in the highest-altitudes of the order. Oh and he kept wickets for a bit, too. Yet, those dropped slip catches and overall defeat must deny Dravid the double digit."

VVS Laxman - 2
The series contained only a few very brief flashes of the real batsman England has never seen. Moving him up to No. 3 due to the shuffling of the openers not only threw off the line-up but Laxman's own performances as well. He came into the series as fresh as Dravid did, received at the most two unanswerable deliveries, but for the most part brought about his own downfall through shot-selections made of haste. Sourav Ganguly believes staunchly that Laxman's game is more suited to No.5 and 6 on the wobbly wickets of England, as he hangs back and plays late, but India's batting pack was not very judiciously shuffled. Eventually the team's experienced middle-order glitter glue couldn't stick around to make a difference.

Sachin Tendulkar - 4
A series to forget, not because it did not contain the Infernal 100, but because of his warm-up taking a while. Was the great man below par? Yes. In terms of his contribution in the series, the experience he brought into an Indian line-up in trouble and his own personal standards. If 5 is the median in marks out of 10, then 4 must be Tendulkar's logical number. When India's second highest run-scorer, regardless of who it is, totals only 273 in eight innings, the series result is going to involve crash landings. Tendulkar offered signs, starts, plus an involvement in the few partnerships India strung together, but not enough scores to stretch a contest.

Suresh Raina - 2
India's energetic GenX poster boy needs his game remodelled. After a fighting hundred in the tour game against Somerset and a bright second innings at Lord's, Raina's progress in the West Indies quickly unravelled on the green tracks of Nottingham and in his next six innings, he scored only 27. The No. 6 spot is far from sealed, the skill gap between India's old and new is a gaping hole. If Raina has to become a leader of the next generation of India's batsmen, his problem will have to be addressed. Currently it involves composure as much as it does the techniques of weaving, swaying, ducking and other options. Raina's part-time bowling was handy on long days, his fielding was the rare face-saver and as much as India needs that, India's middle-order needs runs, regular runs, consistent runs and confident runs.

Yuvraj Singh - 2
If Yuvraj Singh's brief stint in England gave a glimpse of what he could do in Nottingham's conditions - top scorer after Dravid in the first innings - the bruiser-style working over by the England bowlers and a broken finger left the query hanging. Had it not been for the finger, could he have hung though the brutal demands of the rest of the tour? Would it have made a difference? We will never know, but a prolonged series would surely have answered more, either way. Given the holes that have been punched in the Indian batting, Yuvraj will get a few more chances than the two innings of a Test.

MS Dhoni - 2
A series that should define where he goes next, both as long-form batsman and maybe, whisper the words, captain. Regardless of the ODI series, MS Dhoni's Kiplingesque triumph & disaster-management method of cool instinct has possibly run its course, just behind the baffling bowling changes and mysterious field placings. His poor record as a Test batsman was given the flicker with two strong 70s in Edgbaston. It came too late; yet for a while he looked like he had found the formula of how to crack Test batsmanship. Yet on the flattest of wickets at The Oval, Dhoni again gave it away, turned around and cleaned up almost predictably by England's quicker bowlers.

Harbhajan Singh - 2
This is Harbhajan Singh's tipping point tour: he will either burst through upwards again or merely flatline until a successor is found. Once Zaheer was out, Harbhajan became the senior-most bowler, despite dipping wicket-taking numbers and increasing pressure about whether his role in the side involved being attacker or defender. Being one in three front-line bowlers at Lord's naturally sent him out into the defensive trenches again; and after a tidy first innings in Nottingham, England attacked him relentlessly in a middle-overs surge in the second. Injury took him out of the tour and he never went head-to-head on a turning track against his off-spinning rival Graeme Swann. England return to India soon and we will know.

Praveen Kumar - 7
For effort, spunk even, before skill. On his first tour of England, mocked for being more medium than even military pace, Praveen bowled like a glutton for punishment in his three Tests, challenging batsmen with his deception, swing and the hunger to keep returning at them. He could have done with some consistent company, particularly in Birmingham and perhaps a stinging older partner. As England carted their way to 700, Praveen's tight-fisted 40-over spell probably busted his ankle that left him out of the final Test. He was also, significantly, one of the few men who threw the England bowling machine off its lines during his madcap batting blaze in Edgbaston. The only fifer-man in the Indian side on the whole tour, Praveen sat out the last game. Who knows how many more he could have winkled away and when. Particularly with a tuned-in Ishant Sharma for company.

Amit Mishra - 3
He was in there to be a strike bowler, but impressed more with the reassurance and purpose with which he batted at The Oval. He was involved in India's highest partnership of the series - 144 with Tendulkar, and two major stands in that Test - which made him the buffer the lower order needs. He was stepping in for India's lone spin specialist Harbhajan Singh, which is both disadvantage and opportunity and yet didn't make an immediate or sustained impact. At the end of his four innings, it is the lack of wickets that gives Mishra no new gloss and left the injured Harbhajan with fewer challengers.

Ishant Sharma - 4
The Next One. Or not? Ishant's tour was like the English midlands landscape, all hills and dips, one following the other at rapid speed. A breakout spell at Lord's, a first-innings burst in Nottingham and then the ennui of Edgbaston. Yet again, Ishant picked himself up with heart at the end on the flattest wicket in the series. Overall, a so-so tour, 11 wickets from six innings at 58, and only one number will stand out amongst those three. Yet he played in more games than any other Indian seamer and bowled more overs - 173 - than anyone else, even James Anderson. If Australia 2008 was Ishant's debutant's ball, then England 2011 can be his launch platform to become Zaheer Khan's replacement as the alpha male in the bowling attack. But only if he wants it to.

Sreesanth - 2
India's patience for Sreesanth will run out soon, if it has not already, unless the team management can find a way for him to preserve and utilise his skill to the maximum. At his best, Sreesanth can turn games, except his best spells pop up like those of a distracted magician: very occasionally. In England, with everything in his favour in terms of conditions and finally, a place in the attack where he could become the centre of attention, Sreesanth first sparked in Nottingham, then flagged for the rest of the series. On pace, on length, on attention. If any of the quick bowlers have gone backwards on the tour, it would have to be him.

Zaheer Khan - 2
The first cog in the wheel to go wonky; a walking manifestation of India's World Cup-IPL-burnout conveyor belt, Zaheer Khan's was a brief presence followed by a powerful absence. His 13th over limp will be remembered more than the two wickets he had cleaned up, almost on auto-pilot, almost as if it was a given. After his injury, the team lost its striking power and the bowling unit its most efficient leader and guide. India's race to the No. 1, particularly in its toughest games, has been centred on Zaheer and they say he knows his body best. All the more reason he and those around him should have been particularly watchful given the crush of games leading up to England.

RP Singh - 2
Easy to pillory for his lack of fitness and pace, especially as he is out of contract, but having been hauled into a high-intensity series off a vacation in Miami, one thing is certain: RP Singh is not ready to return to Test cricket. Physically that is. That first ball wide at The Oval is not what was responsible for India's eventual defeat, but suddenly it became symptomatic of his team through the entire series. Sloppy and unprepared.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo