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

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