India in England 2014 August 18, 2014

How bad must a defeat be to be unacceptable?

A gutting loss to England, after leading the series 1-0, has thrown up some glaring inadequacies in the Indian team but there is little being said or done in terms of improvement

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Giles: Dhawan must play percentages better

Derby feels like another era now. Another country. It is just before the start of the Tests. India's second tour game. Leicester, the first game, has been a glorified net in the middle, with all 18 allowed to play. It's the same here. This is hardly a competitive pursuit. India, seemingly, haven't asked for a proper four-day first-class match that can simulate Test conditions. This is the Duncan Fletcher way. At least he has some clear and tangible impact on Indian cricket.

Shikhar Dhawan is out poking outside off. MS Dhoni scores 46. Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja are India's slip cordon - at least the fifth combination attempted since the South Africa tour last year. Ishant Sharma has bowled nine no-balls. Even the umpires are not taking this game seriously: they have missed about as many.


In Nottingham, India win the toss and bat well, but Virat Kohli plays a shot that will become a blister, a pest that will suck all the life from his batting. It will leave him hollow, a wreck by the end of the Investec series. The ball is short of a length, it is wide, he still follows it, with a vertical bat and with no intention of driving. At best it is a defensive push, at worst it takes the edge. There is nothing to be gained. A wicket is lost. Kohli is India's most feared, if not the best, batsman.

India's biggest hope with the ball is Mohammed Shami. He bowls full, with the seam upright, giving the conditions maximum chance to take effect. He is quick too. The team's bowling plans revolve around him. Here he is bowling one ball down the leg side almost every over. Joe Dawes, the bowling coach, will later go on to say he has issues with his run-up. They won't be sorted out.

In the final innings, while fighting for a draw, M Vijay lunged at the spinner and feathered an edge, Cheteshwar Pujara doesn't keep the cut down, Kohli plays across the line and is lbw and Ajinkya Rahane edges while playing a loose drive. India aren't executing their disciplines for long enough. Test-match temperament is lacking. And then Stuart Binny saves the match for India. With the bat. This will come with problems of its own.


Playing Binny is a noble thought. India have been unable to close Tests on their last two tours. Dhoni thinks it is because the bowlers tire out. He is desperate for an allrounder. Not even Jacques Kallis. A Corey Anderson, a Jimmy Neesham, a Ben Stokes, a Chris Woakes. He would have settled for Irfan Pathan. Irfan is not fit, though. Binny has taken a six-for in an ODI in Bangladesh. Momentum has built and Binny has played. However, he has bowled only 10 overs of no threat. On the last day, he saves the Test. India make the sentimental decision and give Binny another match.

India win at Lord's thanks to Vijay, Ishant and an incredibly low-percentage innings from Ravindra Jadeja that comes off, But on a seaming track Binny bowls 10 fruitless overs, for 45 runs. He is denied a wicket by Dhoni's failure to go for a catch between himself and first slip. Neither he nor Dhawan moves. Both are at fault. This will hurt India more. In the second innings, during crunch time, Binny is not called upon.

Look at footage of Dhoni's keeping from four-five years ago. He used to crouch as the bowler ran in. Now he stands upright. He used to run up to the stumps when a shot was played to point. Now others do it for him. Dhoni plays more cricket than anyone else in the world. He must be carrying niggles, he must be tired. He also captains every side he plays in. Some selectors have realised you can lose your job if you question his place or his captaincy. Has Dhoni - unwittingly, because he is more honest to himself than this - bred a culture where no one points his mistakes to him? He rarely practises wicketkeeping in training sessions. Just bowls and bats. India's men behind the wicket right now inspire no confidence.

Right now, though, is the time to forget processes. It is time for results. India have won a Test, their first away win in 16 attempts. They have done so with two bits-and-pieces allrounders who are not suited to these conditions. Jadeja's darts won't work here. Binny's batting is marginally better than his bowling, which is not a good sign for a bowling allrounder. Most of all, it is Bhuvneshwar Kumar's batting that has masked top-order failures. Kohli and Pujara have taken turns at fishing outside off and getting bowled. Dhawan is not looking good either. He has thrown it away in the second innings after playing himself in, cutting straight to point.


Southampton. Here the series changes. The Jadeja-Anderson fracas has reached its height with Dhoni detailing his version of the events at a press conference. A man known to be pathologically clinical and unemotional has turned this into personal battle. He knows it is going to be his word against England's, but he has still made this a fight of principle. He was there in Australia in 2008, when it was one man's word against the other, and the verdict was not guilty. Is the man known to preserve all his energies for the field getting consumed by this? Is this hindsight? Does Dhoni do hindsight? Will he stand up for what's right and what's wrong in the IPL controversies?

At any rate, the cost of Lord's is Ishant. A mysterious injury, which will not be explained by the team management until the end of the series, has sidelined him. Southampton is baking. The bowlers are tired. Ishant, with his potentially disconcerting pace and bounce, is not there. India opt for four bowlers and bring in Rohit Sharma.

This is foreign territory for Dhoni's new team: their board cut their last two overseas tours to two Tests each. This is the first time they are playing a third.

The strategy seems like they want to preserve their lead, get Ishant fit for the fourth Test and then reasess. This is Indian weather, a flat pitch, and they lose the toss. Jadeja's base at third slip is too wide, he gets up too early, his head moves up as the ball is going past the bat. There are technical issues that India will refuse to acknowledge. He drops Alastair Cook on 15. Cook scores 95. This is the eighth slip catch India have dropped in seven Tests. Can the bowlers feel confident anymore? Is drawing a healthy edge enough to take a wicket anymore?

Catches still get dropped. Execution is suspect. What about the processes? Jadeja bowls 12 overs in the middle session of day one. To two left-hand batsmen. Most of them into the pads with a 6-3 leg-side field. Some of them into the pads with a 7-2 leg-side field. Dhoni has either decided, on the first morning, that India can only draw this match or he is going the wrong way about trying to win it. Shami is still giving freebies down leg, Bhuvneshwar is tiring, and Pankaj Singh - Ishant's replacement - is eminently likeable and desperately unfortunate, but he is also too slow for his height and too inaccurate for his pace. So Dhoni gives up early. He eliminates one of the three results on day one. This is a sight all too familiar. The man who coaxed bouncers out of Ishant at Lord's has disappeared.


India have rarely had bowlers who will win them Tests outside Asia. On odd occasions everything goes right, the pitch brings them into play and they deliver one-off victories: the last time they won two Tests in the same series outside the subcontinent and Zimbabwe was in 1986. Rest of India's Test cricket has been about batsmen trying to save matches, unsuccessfully for the most part. There was an upswing under Rahul Dravid, who wanted to try things even if the bowlers were not that good. No other Test captain has replicated that sense of ambition. So it is down to a group of young batsmen, who know their bowling will leave them an improbable task, who know they have been dropping catches, who do not know where their off stumps are, against England, who have got their act together after spraying the ball around at Lord's.

Anderson goes round the stumps. Out goes Dhawan. Vijay's leaves have been undone by Broad getting the odd ball to move inin. Kohli follows a wide one again. Rohit frustrates most of all. Minutes before tea, he skips down to Moeen Ali, gets too close to the pitch of the ball, but goes ahead with the shot and finds mid-off. Kapil Dev is a commentator for this series. The only time he missed a Test in his career was because of an irresponsible shot. And his primary role wasn't even batting.

In the second innings, the openers see off Anderson and are on the verge of their first 50-run stand outside Asia. Vijay, though, runs lazily, and is caught short. He has been accused of being casual in the past, but on this tour he has been anything but. Is this because he hadn't scored the runs? Is this run-out because he has the runs under his belt? This is a question India and Vijay need to ask Vijay.


A day after the Southmapton loss, India lose the courtroom fight. Anderson has been found not-guilty, as any court would have. India must now know how Andrew Symonds would have felt in 2008. They have also been punctured. You can see that when they leave quietly through the backdoor of the team hotel. They have lost Test matches and looked less dejected.


Dhoni never dropped Virender Sehwag. Dhoni never dropped Gautam Gambhir. Dhoni never dropped Zaheer Khan. They all did poorly for more than a while, but Dhoni never dropped them. He didn't want blood on his hands. He waited for the selectors to do the deed. He tried to convince them to do the deed. He doesn't even drop Suresh Raina.

He drops Shikhar Dhawan, though. In a team where no batsman sits out, Dhawan was benched for an ODI in New Zealand. He moves out of the slips on the first day of training in Manchester. He is going to be dropped again. For whom is the question. It looks like Gambhir. Gambhir, though, is struggling against Shami in the nets. Surely the management has seen that? Playing Gambhir, who was dropped for not scoring a century in three years and hasn't set domestic cricket alight since then, will be incredibly regressive. This is a strange selection. So unlike Dhoni. India decide to regress.

India also refuse to see Jadeja is not a viable specialist spinner in conditions where darts don't work. His batting is a raffle. They play R Ashwin finally, but not at the expense of Jadeja. And now that they have committed to playing two spinners, and thus bowling last, they ignore overhead conditions and early-morning rain, and decide to bat at Old Trafford.

This pitch does less than Lord's did. The pace and bounce, though, and England's improved accuracy have pushed India back. No edges are dying before reaching slips. No fours are coming through third man. Sweepstakes are on around how Gambhir will get out. Caught gully is popular. Caught gully wins. To a straight ball that lifts a little. Rest are no better. Jadeja scores a duck. Anderson sets him up for an lbw. Crowd uses the tune of guitar solo from White Stripe's Seven-Nation Army, which has become popular among Indians for the Oh Ravi Jadeja chant, to sing Oh Jimmy Anderson.

India's batting has been dismantled, there is no use for Jadeja with the ball, but there is rain around. A hurricane is expected. India need to just hang in on third evening. Bowled out in 43 overs. It rains next day. And next. Only one more session of play would have been possible in the Test. Rest are mere details.


"The batsmen haven't put enough runs on, and there is no excuse for that. There will be no break between the Test matches. There will be a lot of hard work, I can assure you. You don't get better sitting on the couch. We have had guys get in and out without making big scores. That's unacceptable."

Michael Clarke, after Australia lost the second Test in India last year

"Often you say England is a developing team and it's amazing that they have played 475-odd Tests caps between them. And if you look at our team at the same stage, we amount to 230-240 games."

MS Dhoni, after Old Trafford

Is it unacceptable to Clarke because he is used to winning being an Australian. Is it okay for Dhoni because he is not used to winning Tests away from home? As far as we know, Dhoni doesn't carry such dogma. Hopefully inside the dressing room, it is unacceptable after all.


Dhoni doesn't think statistically. He can't even remember small numbers. Even if he has to say 12, he says 10-odd. If he knows how many caps England have between them, and how many his side has, there is someone in that dressing room trying to explain away the defeats. If it was injuries in England 2011, green, monster seamers in Australia 2011-12, it is inexperience now. One day, just one day, you want him to say such defeats are unacceptable. Like he says the Anderson incident was. Like he said Sreesanth's behaviour was.

Dhoni stays firmly in control of his emotion even after his side has been bowled out in under 30 overs. Yet when someone suggests if it might be worth a thought to identify a couple of Test specialists and let them play county cricket when the IPL is on, Dhoni loses that control, and lets himself give out an instinctive response. "Don't be so jealous of the IPL."

India are not good enough, says Dhoni. India don't have the time to sort out their technical problems because they are playing all year around. And don't even go close to suggesting a couple of Test specialists might be kept away from the IPL so they find time to work on their Test games.


If someone can give Dhoni selective stats on his side's inexperience against the other side's experience - never mind that Gary Ballance and Joe Root, England's heaviest scorers, have played fewer Tests than Kohli and Pujara - more stats can be found on India sides before this floundering outside the subcontinent. And that was back when you couldn't imagine a livelihood out of cricket if you couldn't play Test cricket. Now you don't need to do that. Reasons for desperation are even fewer.

However, is it wrong to expect better now that India have more facilities and more money, are a much better limited-overs side than they used to be? Is it wrong to expect India to expect more of themselves? Is it wrong to expect the BCCI to carry out a proper review of the coaches and the captain instead of just asking the players, who will always prefer the least conspicuous and demanding leadership?


Another statistic for Dhoni and India. In the 1990s, India won only one away Test, out of 40. At home they won 17 out of 30. They need to make sure those days are not back.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo