India in England 2014 July 23, 2014

India come full circle

India's wretched run away from home began at Lord's in 2011. A young team full of self-belief may have brought it to an end with their victory at the same venue three years later
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What began at Lord's in 2011 might just have ended at Lord's in 2014. After a run of ten defeats and two draws, India have finally added to their tally of wins outside Asia.

Duncan Fletcher was right after all. The India coach, in the team's first press briefing upon landing in England, had said his team was unpredictable, and this was going to make for some exciting cricket during the series. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, M Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja and Stuart Binny, along with the more experienced Ishant Sharma, have struck vital blows against an uncertain and frazzled England side at various junctures to put India one-up in the series with three Tests to go.

It was a memorable win in an exciting match in which no one knew who the winner would be when play started on the final day. India had been put under pressure straightaway by Alastair Cook, who asked the visitors to bat on one of the greenest strips Lord's has produced in recent memory. The same Lord's where, in 2011, India's sequence of overseas defeats began. India then had been reduced to 10 men after they lost their talisman Zaheer Khan to a hamstring injury immediately after lunch on the first day. Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar were playing their first Test at Lord's but put up spirited performances. Harbhajan Singh struggled despite bowling honestly in the face of unfriendly conditions and an unrelenting and ruthless Kevin Pietersen. India were desperate for a third fast bowler and they did not have one.

Things only got worse as the English summer stretched on. Injuries coupled with the failures of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag exacerbated the pain. India finished the tour without winning a single competitive match. MS Dhoni said he would never forget that series. He had exhausted every possible reason for the defeats. Perhaps his hands were tied. Perhaps he could not push or ask of the seniors beyond a certain point.

Lord's 2011 was Dhoni's 28th Test as India captain. Three years down the line, with 26 more Tests in his leadership vault, Dhoni returned to Lord's far more experienced, and emboldened. He now led a team that was entirely his own. He was now more vocal and expressive. Having lost patience with Irfan Pathan, he was now happy to entrust the allrounder's responsibility in the spin pair of Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin. Or, in this series, Binny. He had learned the fitness lesson. Zaheer, who might have regained fitness halfway through the series, was not considered. The only things this team was desperate for were fitness and fight.

Mentally Dhoni's Indians are highly charged and confident - always the best weapon to deal with pressure in Test cricket. Fearlessness is a defining characteristic of this Indian team. Take Jadeja: he could not put bat to ball at Trent Bridge, hopping down the pitch like a rabbit in the headlights. Before the Lord's Test Jadeja had made the headlines for entirely different reasons. By the end of the Test he had added to one of most enduring images of Indian cricket by brandishing his bat like a sword to celebrate his match-turning half-century.

It is easy to get overwhelmed by the occasion at a cherished venue like Lord's. But this Indian team managed to keep its eyes on the cricket and its feet on the ground. It did not matter to the players whether they had registered their names on the Honours Board or not. More significant for them was performing the role given to them and listening to the captain at all times. Take Ajinkya Rahane's first-innings century, without which the Test would have swayed England's way. Rahane showed the maturity to accelerate in the company of the tail to put the strain back on Cook.

Talking on radio Rahul Dravid, who had got his only century at Lord's in 2011, mentioned that Rahane, during the IPL, had quizzed him about various facets of batting in England. Dravid, who is the mentor at Rajasthan Royals, Rahane's franchise, praised the youngster for his planning and his keenness to perform even while they were playing a Twenty20 tournament.

As much as it is looked upon skeptically by purists the IPL has actually contributed to the growth of many of the players in the Indian squad. Having played with and against top quality international players, the Indians have been able to gauge how good they are themselves. That kind of positive mindset has allowed them to stand up to fight in various tough situations in India's last three overseas Test series including in England.

One of the biggest achievements of the Dhoni-Fletcher management team has been to create a strong bond of trust among the players to play for each other and not constantly look over their shoulders. Dhoni stressed this, saying every player is aware he has the team management's backing. "What's important to see is how they are preparing and what their mental approach is," he said. "Not to talk too much about technique. Technique is important, but mental approach is something very important. I feel what we have done well is to take them to a position where they feel very comfortable within the team. And they feel as if they are wanted in this scenario and have backing of team and not just the captain. That is showing on the field."

Bhuvneshwar acknowledges that fact. "Set your own fields and make your own plans. If I feel the need to change anything, I will tell you," he told bcci.tv about Dhoni's instructions after his six-for in the first innings.

Another striking difference from the previous England tour has been the vital contributions from the tail. On the 2011 tour only Amit Mishra, among the lower-order batsmen, managed a fifty during the four-Test series, having come in as a night-watchman. This series the Indian tail has wagged at a handsome average of 42. The stark difference in contributions is noticeable between the two teams: England's lower-order batsmen have scored only 253 runs from 302 balls with two half-centuries. In comparison India's lower order batsmen have scored six fifties and spent longer in the middle, having faced 837 deliveries.

India are doing exactly what England did three years ago when Andrew Strauss' team won 4-0 and grabbed the No.1 Test ranking from their opponents. The obvious challenge is to take the process, as Dhoni likes to say, forward. He has the support of his players this time. A group of young men filled with confidence and self-belief.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • crazycricfan007 on July 25, 2014, 9:24 GMT

    The only change the team needs currently is to have Ashwin instead of Binny if the wicket is flat track or spin friendly. This will allow our pacers to remain fresh. New english batsmen and tailenders will find Ashwin difficult to handle as compared to Binny.

  • Siddiee on July 25, 2014, 6:28 GMT

    @ ThePacifist10 - In Dhoni's absence Virat was captain in Asia Cup when he picked Mishra as a third spinner along with Jadeja & Ashwin. Fair to say, Mishra picked himself for T20 WC that was to be played in same conditions after his performance in Asia Cup.

    Dhoni looked an improved captain but a lot more is desired to win tests consistently. For instance he continued with his famous 'in-out' field for Jadeja with pitch doing all kind of things. Shouldn't he have asked Eng batsmen to score boundaries by sweeping on that surface. Instead he was happy conceding singles.

    I agree with you on Kohli as he is too good a player to remain on sidelines for long and I am sure soon we will see some good contributions from him. While talking of National and IPL teams, never discount Kohli in Indian jersey and Raina in CSK jersey :).

  • Humdingers on July 25, 2014, 2:14 GMT

    As good as the win was, the series is not done and dusted. Win the series and then we can all start the back patting! I'm still not convinced about Fletcher. Less convinced about Dhoni. but I hope they do prove me wrong (by winning in Eng and Aus). I still think the team needs a proper spinner.

  • ladycricfan on July 24, 2014, 18:23 GMT

    Few things history has taught us. When one talent retires new talent emerges and fills the gap. Bunch of top class talent appearing together seems cyclical. First WI dominated. Then Australia and so on. India never dominated like Windies and Australia but always had good mid table teams. Now the fab four of india have retired and another fab four is emerging. The new bunch already looks settled and performing well. Spinners always dominated Indian attack. Now many talented fast bowlers are competing for places. All look good for India.

  • opinion66 on July 24, 2014, 17:24 GMT

    Only reason India won was because of tailender batting. This has become the only differentiator in today's competitive cricket

  • vakkaraju on July 24, 2014, 16:34 GMT

    For the first time Dhoni is showing confidence in his bowlers. The Lords victory is a testament to this. Good thing is he has bench strength with Aaron, Pandey and Singh. He should not hesitate to rest Shami since he did not seem at his best.

  • Haleos on July 24, 2014, 16:16 GMT

    I firmly believe Pujara, Rahane, etc should have been part of 2011 Squad. They would have gained valuable experience. Rather we wasted in on so called Big 3. RD did score loads of runs but we still lost so a younger team might not have changed the result but would have gained enough experience to demonate this time around. but India stars have a habit of continuing till they have been stopped being selected. Some of them now are pundits and mentors.

  • Speng on July 24, 2014, 13:40 GMT

    Going into this series there were a lot of pundits (mostly English) talking about England winning but I couldn't see it. The main things they were taking against the Indians was being away from home, English conditions and inexperience.

    India has a lot of young players but mostly they've come into the series in good form and their long term class is undeniable. If they want they have good replacements for Dhawan and Kohli and good fast bowling depth. Could have had a better selection of spinners. OTOH Eng have poor fast bowling depth and even thought their neophytes have done fairly well, you wouldn't have been certain of in coming into the series.

    As far as conditions, they've suited India as well as they have England. If you figure two more results in the series, England have to win both.

    Away from home is countered by the focus that India are showing. They're sticking to their plans and are more aggressive while England continues to squander opportunities.

  • SamRoy on July 24, 2014, 13:25 GMT

    What is so special about India defeating England which is going through transition. Even Sri Lanka beat England few days back. SL may be a very good limited overs team but is a very mediocre test team especially since Murali has retired. India at best is in SL category if they win the series against England. Last year Dhoni spurned a golden opportunity of winning a test series in SA by not picking two spinners in Durban and picking Zaheer in both Durban and Jo'Burg.

  • android_user on July 24, 2014, 11:25 GMT

    @crimsonbull-The times have changed and so the team so expect something different from now on as India's gonna win this series, one way or the other.. But I can assure you, England's not gonna win this series..