England v India, 2nd npower Test, Trent Bridge, 4th day August 1, 2011

India outclassed by better-prepared rivals

If India haven't managed to be the team they could have been, they must ask a few tough questions of themselves

The crown has not been officially removed yet, and it is plausible that India may still be able to hang on to it, but it would seem a distant dream after a four-day annihilation by a ruthlessly professional English team. This has been a devastating defeat: they were battered with the bat, and literally pounded by the ball, with three of their top-order batsmen taken out by the short ball, and two being dismissed without offering a stroke.

Not since 2008, when they were mystified by Ajantha Mendis, have they lost two Tests in a series, let alone two Tests in succession. And though they lost by an innings to South Africa last December, not in years has the last innings batting performance been so utterly abject. From the margin of defeat, it now seems staggering that they had England down at 124 for 8 before tea on the first day.

It must be taken into account that England have put up two mighty performances. There is a wholesomeness about this England side that makes them intimidatingly formidable. The pace attack is comparable to 2005 when they recovered from a disastrous first Test to win the Ashes; and even though Graeme Swann was collared at Trent Bridge, he took a couple of crucial wickets at Lord's; they bat down to No. 10, and despite the fact that their openers have not scored too many, they have managed to bat India out in both the Tests; and as demonstrated by Tim Bresnan's innings-wrecking spell on the fourth day, their reserve strength runs deep.

Comparisons are always tricky, but since they are necessary for the sake of context, this is perhaps the tightest, most evenly balanced, and the most confident English Test team in the last four decades. Apart from their embarrassing slip catching, it's hard to find a genuine weakness in the team. It is unlikely they will be beaten by a couple of blinding individual performances: India will have sustain their best game through the match to be able to take a Test off them.

Of course the Indian performance should be seen in the context of their troubles. Losing Zaheer Khan on the first day of the Lord's Test was a crippling blow. Apart from reducing them to the three-man attack through the Test, it ensured that Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar carried weary and tired bodies to the next Test. And with a stomach muscle strain keeping Harbhajan Singh out of the attack for most of the second Test, the workload on the quick bowlers bordered on the inhuman. They toiled away spiritedly, but by the final session of the third day, when Matt Prior and Tim Bresnan mounted their astonishing assault, they were comprehensively spent.

This is perhaps the tightest, most evenly balanced, and the most confident English Test team in the last four decades. Apart from their embarrassing slip catching, it's hard to find a genuine weakness in the team

Equally debilitating has been the loss of their openers. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, who average 59.18 as a pair and have ten century partnerships between them, have provided the base for India's batting success since they became the side's regular openers in 2008.

From the outside, there might seem to be little difference in opening and batting at No. 3, but for someone as meticulous as Rahul Dravid, the deviation from regular routine can be hugely disruptive. He coped admirably in the second innings at Lord's and the first innings at Trent Bridge, but in the swinging conditions in England, the prospect of an unplayable ball early is far higher, and losing Dravid early not only meant that India were also deprived of their best No. 3 batsman, but also exposed VVS Laxman, who has been phenomenal at No. 5 or 6 in the last five years, to the new ball.

India's worst nightmares came true in the final innings at Trent Bridge when Dravid nicked one early and James Anderson conjured a ball - shaping in and then moving away with the seam - that Laxman had no reasonable chance of keeping out. What had begun with a near impossible task for India became absolutely beyond possible in the course of seven overs.

There is no room for argument about the fact that India have been hopelessly outclassed by a team that has displayed more skill, intensity and fitness over the course of the Test. But if India haven't managed to be the team they could have been, they must ask a few tough questions of themselves.

Injuries are unavoidable, but have all the Indian players come in to the tour with the best preparation possible? Did Zaheer, who sat out of the tour to West Indies, come to the tour in the optimal physical condition?

And why did Sehwag not opt to undergo the shoulder surgery immediately after the World Cup and wait instead until his IPL team was out of semi-final contention, when it was almost certain that it would risk his participation in this tour? It is, of course, far simpler to sit before a laptop and suggest he should have chosen the interests of the national team before a couple of million dollars cash, but then who takes the responsibility for setting the priorities for the contracted national cricketers?

And only Gambhir can say if it was impossible for him to play the second Test after the blow to his elbow in the first Test, but examples of cricketers playing through pain aren't rare.

Those who opted out of the West Indies tour were playing their first Test since January, with the World Cup and the IPL putting a pause to longer form cricket. Was one tour game enough to get them match ready?

It is true that that India have never had the aura of the truly great teams of the past. Rather they have scrapped their way to the top. But in England they have appeared ragged and jaded.

Without doubt, England have been the better side by a margin in the first two Tests but it is not a coincidence that they have looked more desperate, sharp and ready.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Soumik on August 3, 2011, 10:11 GMT

    Add to the injury list the ineffectiveness of certain players like Dhoni and Harbhajan.Both of them are in the side because of their past reputation and not on the basis of current form.While Harbhajan is out in the next test is certainly a blessing in disguise for India,what can be said of Dhoni?He can't keep,can't bat and can't bowl either(!!)..Now that he has lost 2 tests in a row (which is first under his captaincy) he has carefully made his fame in the Ian Bell incident.He is not the greatest (or best) captain of India like India is not the best (or #1) team of the world.His winning WT20 was a fluke,process of getting India to #1 started under Kumble's captaincy,CSK winning IPL was arguably rigged(Warne pitch incident),had almost no contribution(except the final) in world cup victory.Ultimately after all his excuses he is pinning his hopes on Sehwag who has not played a single competitive match after surgery!!Pathetic..

  • Matt on August 3, 2011, 9:21 GMT

    I have to say I do enjoy a good laugh..and some of the comments on here make me laugh so hard my sides ache. Firstly let me say, hats of to India for playing the game in the right spirit, particularly to Laxman and Tendulkar who I understand were the main drivers of the Bell decision being over turned.

    However, to those on here who state that the vistories are meaningless...what a load of nonsense. Of course they are meaningful. Just because India played without Sehwag and Zaheer it doesn't make them meaningless. England have injuries a plenty but were well prepared and overall have played better cricket because they have strength in depth. It will be interesting to see what happens on the sub continent but Swann is a quality bowler on a turning pitch and I reckon Panesar who is bowling brilliantly at Sussex or Rashid will also have to something to add. Finally, one minor point, I was at Trent Bridge for Dravid's century and most of the England players did applaud!

  • Sriram on August 3, 2011, 7:46 GMT

    I'm too and ardent Indian fan, but injuries cannot be excuses for losing a tough test tour. Congrats to England, but good luck to you and your swing bolwers when they bowl in the dusty swingless wickets of India in your 2012 tour.

  • Kalindu on August 3, 2011, 6:23 GMT

    The overrated Indian team will go down 4-0 defeat for sure. They rated there player so high standard, but when their services needed it was not happened so far. So sad to see. All the best England.

  • Dummy4 on August 3, 2011, 6:11 GMT

    The ranking is irrelevant, and contrived. England has played exceptionally well and in, more crucially, a well-balanced way. If India can recover, it would be a series for the ages!

  • niaz on August 3, 2011, 6:05 GMT

    Sambit you and Akash Chopra were my two favorite writers. Very balanced stuff. I cannot believe you are missing the biggest point England simply played well, tried more and did better. Its time to be gracious. Sattam Shivam Sundaram. Otherwise India would not know where they need to improve.

  • Kamal on August 3, 2011, 4:39 GMT

    Reasons...why India lost according to me are: 1. Absence of Sehwag, bcos of which Abhinav was introduced to such a great and strong bowling attack...2...injury to Zaheer Khan during 1st Test. because of that batting orders were not in orders so longs...everyone has to play in different position. 3. Harbhajan singh is not effective at all. 4. Last but not least...Indians Player and BCCI were not serious for this important series (fight for No.1)...really..i mean it.

    Anyway..i still hope..with coming of Virendra, Zaheer and Gambhir..India will not let them No.1. Indian are not weak..and if England players are thinking they can beat them so easily like they did in last two tests..its their big mistake.... India will definitely take revenge of this.

  • Shulz Van on August 3, 2011, 4:05 GMT

    India outclassed by better PREPARED rival???? It should MORE be like this- INDIA OUTCLASSED BY A BETTER TEAM ON THE DAY. I dont like the English, but I always knew that England is a better Test side than India. I knew it was coming, after all India is starting to come out of their continent. It was inevitable. The ratings??? I dont believe in those ratings. If they were right>>> THEN Y ARE THE AUSSIES STILL NO.1 WHEN INDIA IS THE WORLD CHAMPION? CAN ANYONE ANSWER ME THAT? The ratings does not give you the current strength of a team. India is no.1 test side in the world but they are not no.1 in ODI. BS!!!! I think India is the no.1 ODI side in the world but in TEST, I believe SA and England are better than India. Those ratings reflects all those test match India been playing at home. Plus a real strong team always have good back up, India still far from that. If Zaheer is out the whole team suffers. Dravid or Zaheer are not the whole Indian team. The better team won. No excuses.

  • Krish on August 2, 2011, 20:47 GMT

    I think Dhoni is not test class.His keeping is very average and his batting come off very rarely.I'm surprised he has managed to survive this long in the test arena.

  • Kevin on August 2, 2011, 20:14 GMT

    I think the problem for the fan's surprised reaction to India's losses is due to the fact that a majority of Indian fans only watch Indian cricket. Anybody who watched the Ashes or the Sri Lanka series would tell you that India didn't have a chance to WIN against the English in their home conditions, and that the best they could do would be to draw the series. Yet, to be brutally honest, most Indian fans (in fact most fans in general) do not actually watch an entire Test match. They look at the score reports, media reports, or highlights. Even worse, they only watch a certain player and stop watching when that person gets out. In fact, most of the Indians I know only seem to like to watch India's batting and never even attempt to watch India bowling. Some Indian fans do watch cricket other than their own couuntries, and they knew India had a small chance. To the rest of the world, this series is no surprise, just the reward that was coming to England for a while.

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