August 2, 2014

Have India missed the boat?

They made a wrong move by refusing to pick Ashwin; Kohli and Pujara have not come good; and Jadeja has only flattered to deceive

And so the moment was lost. In the instant when Ishant Sharma was ruled out in Southampton, Ravi Ashwin had to be reinstated. In what could haunt MS Dhoni for the rest of this series, he instead chose another rookie, Pankaj Singh. In that moment he totally went against the book.

Extraordinary really, especially when you consider the state of the pitch over the five days - dry underneath, perfect for spin later. Ashwin's experience needed to replace Ishant Sharma's, let alone his proven wicket-taking skill. I fell over when I heard a debutant was in, and a sarcastic tweet followed.

No, this is not a take from the book of hindsight, this has been a consistent theme throughout. In the book of winning Tests, you must always pick your four best-quality bowlers. At Lord's, India got away with selecting only three, and magnificently, Ajinkya Rahane, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant made up for repeated selection shortcomings.

From day one of this series, the exclusion of Ashwin has been absolutely mind-blowing. If the inclusion of Stuart Binny was fraught, then the more I think of it the fixation with Ravi Jadeja has been the worst of all. Not only is Jadeja a loose cannon with the bat, he is the complete opposite with the ball: defensive, negative, lacking in skill. Throw in his altercation with James Anderson and the catch he dropped off Alastair Cook. That straightforward drop could well be the turning point of this series, of Cook's career, and it should spell the end of the bits-and-pieces one-day cricketer that Jadeja ultimately is. There is no doubt his 68 at Lord's took the match away from England but if we are honest, it was a lucky, often flukey, display. In a nutshell, he lacks Test match temperament.

I have already waxed lyrical about Ashwin previously. As I said then, and I will repeat, India will rue his exclusion more than any other mistake they have made on this tour. And while Dhoni's stubborn defence of his choice is a given, the team that can play by the book will take out this close battle. With what has happened this week involving the Indian captain, following a lot of good work at Lord's, it is clear he has, strangely, started reading from the wrong script.

Surprisingly, Virat Kohli has struggled to post anything significant. He is close, simply because he is that good, but England have had him nicely in their sights with their mode of attack, and his inexperience on those shores has shown. Man, will future England bowlers pay for this pain he has endured.

Cheteshwar Pujara too has faltered, and this is not a surprise given it is impossible to maintain the glorious start he had. Once he clears the second-year blues and goes back to playing straighter, he will be the wall whose shoes he has been chosen to fill. India had their chance to move this series forward with England on their knees, and Dhoni, Kohli and Pujara missed the boat in Southampton.

Peter Moores should take a bow for his cool assessment between Tests in regard to his senior players. His call to shed the responsibility tag and go out and express oneself as if it's a first Test was smart, and shows how a coach can make a difference at the appropriate time. Duncan Fletcher will need to have similar words to his men en route to Manchester.

England can thank Gary Ballance for his steadfast calm. While Cook played nervously on day one, Ballance provided the backbone that Cook and Bell could use to finally break their bleak spell. The Zimbabwean is a good 'un. Mentally clear, organised and hungry, he could not have come into such form or position at a better time - in the nick of time, with England's senior top order either burnt out or cooked. Ballance was the one who provided the superglue for a team on the brink of collapse.

On the subject of collapse, it is alarming to see this Anderson-Jadeja spat having escalated to the point it did, but thankfully it has been thrown out for a lack of evidence and a lot of classroom hearsay. It's pathetic on many levels. Firstly, Anderson has been guilty of this crass sledging-type behaviour before and needs to pull his head in fast. If Cook and Moores can't see that then they will lose him long term; surely any more incidents will result in removal one way or the other. Clearly Anderson needs help in this area.

Secondly, Dhoni has taken it too far in the way in which he decided to bag the match referee, David Boon, over the Jadeja ruling. Is Dhoni too, like Anderson, becoming a law unto himself? Talk about living in glass houses.

The game at present, with so much of the stench of match-fixing hovering in the air, does not need this kind of behaviour. Anderson and Dhoni need a holiday, which they won't get thanks to this mad scheduling. They are not serving the game as they should, given their long standing. Let the skills you are privileged to display tell the story, inspiring many, not the commentary that follows. Plenty of time for yapping when the body can speak no more.

This series could well come down to these two bodies, as you might expect. Anderson may have survived the silly inquest, and therefore England are in a strong position, with the shift of momentum now obvious on and off the field. Or it might yet come down to whether Dhoni has the notion to ask Ashwin to drop the crime novel he is devouring and get out there and win a Test match again. Before the last chapter is read.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s and early '90s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand