Batting heavyweights pull their punches
If there's one thing India have done with a single-minded focus from the start of this Test, it's the huddle. Before the start of play, at drinks intervals and after session breaks, they've converged near the pavilion and given the impression of being a team that means business. One huddle today was timed at 150 seconds; even the wizened spectators at Lord's might not have seen the like before.
However, the same purposefulness hasn't been seen consistently in the rest of the cricket, save one fine spell of swing bowling yesterday morning. Their constellation of batting stars faded gradually and, not for the first time, surrendered the initiative. It wasn't a collapse but a steady, meek, predictable capitulation. All those years of experience, close to 500 Tests, some gazillion runs, all counting for a slide from 106 for 2 to 201 all out. The collective intensity to gain the momentum, the urge to take the fight to the opposition, the need to finish in a blaze, wasn't on view.
While analysing India's batsmen it must be remembered that England's bowlers were outstanding - James Anderson said it was the best he'd ever bowled in a Test and Ryan Sidebottom curled some wonderful parabolas. They stuck to a plan, didn't give away too many runs last evening and exploited the conditions this morning. Life was tough out there but, at the same time, a plan was missing.
With the ball swinging through the innings, with conditions changing so rapidly, with rain in the air and bowlers on a high, India's batsmen should have known better than to simply hang around. The singles dried up after Sachin Tendulkar was out last evening. You'd expect a left-right batting combination to constantly look for ones, in an attempt to put the bowlers off rhythm, but Sourav Ganguly and Wasim Jaffer pottered around. At least five regulation singles were turned down - and this was before Ganguly started hobbling with a twinge - and just eight singles in his 82-ball stay contributed to the loss of momentum.
Jaffer, as he himself admitted, started drawing the shutters at the wrong time. "They were bowling pretty well but I was probably a bit more cautious," he said. "Probably if I had been not out, things would have been different." India had failed to rectify that mistake in the morning too. "Again the ball was swinging around and they were hitting the right areas. But probably we could have batted a bit more positively and got 30-40 runs more."
Once Ganguly departed, VVS Laxman was left with the lower order for company. For one who rarely musters the strength to hit over the top and for one who struggles to run between wickets, Laxman can't be India's best No.6. His 41-ball 15 didn't contain a single boundary and he appeared to be settling down for a long innings. This was a day when one good ball was all it took, a day to make the most of the not so good ones. He invariably bats with the tail for company and an aggressor like Ganguly could be better suited for the role.
Cameos at the end make a difference; even if it's only a matter of a few additional runs there's a change in mood, a dressing-room more buoyed. VRV Singh's wild and agricultural 29 at the Wanderers in December last year played a part in the win. Watching videos of that match won't be out of place: on a tough first day pitch they elected to bat and took the attacking route. Yet, two Tests later, at Cape Town, they were back to a negative mindset, freezing when they should have flowed.
At Mumbai last year, again against an Anderson led-attack, they fell to a similar trap. A couple of months later, on a Sabina Park minefield they nearly gave it all away before a couple of Rahul Dravid masterpieces sneaked them the series. India's batsmen have been celebrated, their records have been spoken of highly and their previous exploits hyped. Bowlers are supposed to win games, batsmen are supposed to set them up. The problem we have here is slightly different: India's bowlers are setting them up nicely but the batsmen don't seem to possess the nous to win them.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo