Did India learn anything from the defeat in South Africa earlier this year? Did they not learn that match practice is the key to winning Test series, especially abroad? Was playing just a three-day tour match against Essex enough before a big clash with England? These are the questions raised by former India captain Sunil Gavaskar, who said the team management had erred by focusing on "simulated" training rather than playing actual cricket matches to prepare for an important five-match series.
India lost the first of those games by 31 runs two days ago, with all of their specialist batsmen, barring Virat Kohli, showing weak technique and even weaker temperament. This led Gavaskar to question why the players were given five days off before the start of the England Tests, and took issue with India reducing the proposed four-day match against Essex into three days. He held that while Kohli might have the skills needed to adjust to Test cricket even after time off, the Indian captain and management needed to realise that the others could have benefited from more match practice.
The white-ball portion of India's tour ended with the third ODI on July 17, but there was only one practice game - against Essex - scheduled in the 14-day gap until the start of the first Test on August 1. India lost that Test, despite Kohli scoring 149 and 51.
"See Virat Kohli is such an exceptional talent, he can take 15 days off and then score a hundred the next day," Gavaskar told India Today. "If he takes time off, no quarrel at all. But he has to understand, and the team management have to understand, that others need practice.
"I understand the need to switch off, but it can't be five days. The preparation should have been much more intense at the start of the series. You can taper off later, but not at the start. The last ODI was on July 17, and the Test series started on August 1. There were 14 days in between. And you play only a three-day match in that period? Why have you gone to England - to play cricket or something else? I agree, they have practised for long hours in those days, but like I said, you cannot get by with just practice. You have to play matches too."
Gavaskar also didn't agree with the notion that arriving in England a month before the Tests began had been helpful, largely because India had spent that time playing one-day cricket.
"They deluded themselves, and everybody, by saying they have been in England for a month. But in that time they were playing against the white ball. And the white ball doesn't move as much as the red one, and the Duke ball particularly moves even more," he pointed out. "They didn't learn anything from the South Africa experience. [India lost 2-1 away to South Africa at the start of the year] They didn't have much time there, but they did have a two-day practice match which they also cancelled. In South Africa, India played well in the third Test, only after playing in two Tests. We're talking of five Tests here, if you start winning after two Tests, the series can be gone by then.
"You can have as many match simulations, as many throw-downs, but it is never the same as a match situations. While taking throw-downs, you can get out, but you know you'll still be batting the next ball. If a bowler bowls a no-ball in a match, he won't get a wicket. In the match, if you get out, you'll be sitting in the dressing room and watching someone else score the runs you should have."
Another error India had made, according to Gavaskar, was going in without an extra batsman. "If it was up to me, in the first Test of an overseas series, I would always go with six batsmen," he said. "Then with a wicketkeeper and an allrounder like Ashwin, your batting depth increases. If after that, your top four hit form, you can go with five bowlers in the subsequent Tests. The need of the hour now is to strengthen the batting."
Analysing India's batsmen in the first Test, Gavaskar said only Kohli made the mental adjustment needed. "Virat adjusted temperamentally. The bat-speed in one-day cricket is higher, because you're looking to play shots. It's not like that in Test cricket," Gavaskar said. "The more you leave balls in Tests, the better for you, because the bowler tires. And if you keep leaving balls outside off, you will force the bowler to change his line. Virat made that adjustment, the others didn't. See Shikhar Dhawan's dismissals in both innings, Rahul in the first innings, Ajinkya Rahane in both innings - they all went at the ball with hard hands. The secret to batting in England is not to reach for the ball, but let it come on to the bat. If they can make that adjustment, the others can make runs in the next Test onwards."