England v India, 5th Investec Test, The Oval, 1st day August 15, 2014

India hit by their perfect storm

A five Test series has brought challenges this India side have not faced before and, after the high of Lord's, it has found out many of them, whether technically, physically or mentally

Play 06:36
Dissecting India's top-order collapse

Let's make all the allowances first. This was possibly India's sternest test of the series. The pitch was damp, it was cloudy overhead, and clearly more happened off the seam than it did at Old Trafford. It behaved a lot like the Lord's pitch, but with James Anderson and Stuart Broad bowling much better than they did north of the river. This pitch against this attack with a slip cordon catching well - Joe Root manufactured one by standing halfway with a helmet on - would have tested any batting line-up in the world. And when he was in the moment, MS Dhoni fought bravely and deftly - taking blows on the body, farming the strike, refusing a single on 49 - and Ishant Sharma provided him unflinching support.

Yet you cannot overlook how India have not learned from their mistakes. And a side that refuses to correct its mistakes cannot hope to win a five-Test series. ODIs, yes. Short Test series, maybe. Not five Tests that will find you out at some point. And then it will keep exposing you ruthlessly. India have had no response to it. This is the last Test of the series, and India have not yet put their best XI on the field.

It was a noble thought, and a brave move on the part of Dhoni the batsman to play an extra bowler at the start of the series, but it was clear Stuart Binny was not the man. He might have saved them the first Investec Test on the final day with the bat, but that was not what he was picked for. His primary job was to bowl 12-15 good tight overs a day. He was not used in the second innings at Lord's, a Test he should not even have been playing.

Rohit Sharma, Binny's replacement, was dropped after he played a poor shot at the Ageas Bowl, but there has been no such finality with Gautam Gambhir. When he was asked about whether India are at a stage where they might want to say "to hell with the other opener", and go with an extra middle-order batsman, Dhoni basically said Rohit has hardly played any cricket in this series and it would not be right to have him come in "all of a sudden" for a big game. Binny had played two Tests, Gambhir one and Rohit one before this; yet the likeliest man to do a job sat out. Gambhir got out first ball.

You can tell Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli have got worse over the series, they are fighting the demons in their heads and their techniques, but they are getting out in the same manner. Pujara's back foot has not moved across all series, and suddenly out of nowhere for one odd delivery his bat comes down from wide. He has been missing straight balls. He has been either lbw or bowled 14 out of 37 times in his career, which, closing in at 40, is a high percentage. There has not been an improvement on that front.

Kohli was seen working hard on his batting in the nets, especially trying to get his back lift straight, but he is still chasing balls well outside off. It does not help that he has got out leaving twice; one of them, at Lord's, was a poor leave. Kohli and Pujara's continuous, and in some ways similar, failures will send them back with question marks against their credentials, and also the support staff's. It does not help that the schedule has not allowed them any time off to work on their games.

Their runs in the past helped gloss over the small things, but they, too, are being exposed now. Dhoni, who has shown fortitude with the bat and has come out of his comfort zone there, has been ordinary behind the stumps. He has not gone for catches between him and first slip. He stands upright as the bowler runs in. He is not athletic either. You wonder if the team has made peace with it, or if they have pointed it out to him and have worked on it without any effect. Who in the team can tell him that? We don't know.

So in the end you get a day that is the perfect storm. The pitch seams, the overheads swing the ball, you lose the toss, the opposition bowlers get it right for the best part of the day, Pujara is out there batting in the first over, Kohli gets a slightly tough lbw call, Root pulls off a blinder to send M Vijay back, and the brave Dhoni is stranded. Yet there is little sympathy for them. For this was a side that had turned up to take its last beatings. There are no knockouts, technical or otherwise, in five-Test series, or this series would have been called off at Old Trafford.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • azamscar on August 19, 2014, 2:38 GMT

    "Kohli gets a slightly tough lbw call" REALLY ????? he was not playing a shot its plumb out

  • yukelele on August 17, 2014, 16:12 GMT

    exactly, dravid, ganguly, zaheer, Tendulkar and others all played county cricket. they also need to toughen up and really fight like ganguly (who had less talent then some of these current crop of cricketers)

  • oldtimer1940 on August 17, 2014, 15:52 GMT

    Stop all this teeth gnashing...Two simple solutions. First and Easy One, Stop playing outside India. Second approach...Pujara/Kohli etc should learn from Ganguly, Zaheer Khan who came out of their comfort zones and play some County Cricket in England and also spend some time in Australia, etc...

  • dummy4fb on August 16, 2014, 20:58 GMT

    I strongly believe its the capain who sets the tone of the team.He always sets defensive fiields ,allows game to drift Aaron and Ashwin hould have been in team from 3rd test itself .He always seems to reluctant to play fast bowlers like Aaron and Umesh ( lets hope plays in ODIs) , prefers medium pacers like pankaj and seem hellbent on making allrounder of Jadeja who can't even bat in India and just can't take wickets outside sub-continent But he will still be in squad till Dhoni i around .

  • dummy4fb on August 16, 2014, 20:51 GMT

    The failure on ths trip is combination of various reasons. Weak slip cordon , too many catched dropped , look at the way how close slip fielders stand , too many instances where wk or slip fielder has no gone for catch .Its been repeated in all matches ,does not seem any conscious effort to corect it .Slp fielders get changed for such a specialst .Poor caching is good enough to demoralise attack like India which is oly decent and not srong . The way they played Moen Ali was hard to understand .Bowlers couldn't last for a 5 test series . Add to it Dhoni's defensive captaincy and illogical moves , looks like does not care for test cricket . Even Vijay and Rahane after 2-3 good tests were complacent and paid price.Jadeja , Binny ,gambhir , rohit should not hae been in team .Umesh Yadav should have been there .Batsmen are not fighting in testing conditons...

  • crowe299 on August 16, 2014, 19:21 GMT

    Why are you saying "slightly tough LBW call"? Even though it struck outside the line, it is out since he is leaving the ball and it is going to hit the stumps.

  • Roshan_P on August 16, 2014, 17:50 GMT

    @baghels.a - I'm fairly sure all of them play a decent amount of county cricket. Ballance does - he has an average of above 50 in county cricket and he has taken that to a Test level. Ben Stokes has gone back to play county cricket - hopefully to improve on his batting.

  • abstractCricFan on August 16, 2014, 17:11 GMT

    It looked like the team gave up well before the 4th test ...This is everyone's first full length five match series outside the subcontinent ..the fact that there's a champions league followed by a series with the Windies ( at home ) ..I fear for a 4-0 whitewash in Aus again

  • Tlotoxl on August 16, 2014, 16:59 GMT

    India lost 4-0 in England last time, they lost 4-0 in Aus last time, what is new?

    People seen to forget in T1 this series half way the morning session India were close to losing, only 130 ahead with 6 wickets down there was a remote chance of an England win if the last 4 had been knocked over quickly.

    Even the one test India won it is very easy to forget that 2 balls before lunch England were favourites to win, 146 to win with 2 sessions to get them, 2 set batsmen in and another 4 reasonable batsmen to come after that, India didn't win that game, England threw it away.

  • badbug27 on August 16, 2014, 15:37 GMT

    What is a perfect storm? It sounds interesting but does not make sense Monga.

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