Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan bowls his left-arm spin and snares 12 wickets in the first 'Test' against England at Mumbai. India win by 167 runs. The same left arm spinner can only return 2/115 in the second 'Test' The match is drawn. Perhaps the wicket at Chennai was far too flat? How then do the Indians explain being bundled out for 231 in the first innings? Having been asked to follow on, openers Gautam Gambhir (212) and Vinayak Mane (201) put together an opening partnership of 391. Glorious uncertainties of the game? Certainly, but that's not the whole story.
Cricket is played in the mind. At under-19 level that is sometimes glaringly so. Although the England camp are rigorous in training and exhaustive when it comes to cricket drills, when it comes to sheer cricket sense, the Indian lads came to the fore. A look at some of the basics will reveal that. When it came to field placing, the Indians, most of them having played first-class cricket, were right on the ball. When a spinner came on to bowl, India had at least four men close to the bat. This gave the spinners something to bowl for. On the other hand, Ian Bell gave his spinners almost no incentive when they came on. Left-armer Monty Panesar would bowl with just one slip, men deep in the circle and almost no way of troubling batsmen. With the field nicely spread, all the batsmen had to do was get a good stride in and defend the ball with bat and pad close together. Any turn extracted was slow and predictable and could easily be smothered.
Similarly, the pressure the Indians were able to exert on batsmen was far in excess of anything the visitors could come up with. With men close to the bat chattering away constantly, and the fielders going up in appeal every time the ball went near bat or pad, there was no respite for the English batsmen. In contrast, a deathly silence fell on the field when India were batting. A few fluent cover drives early in a bowler's spell was enough to silence all the fielders. What's more, at most times the fielders were so far away that a word of encouragement would not be heard by the bowler.
Having gone one up in the three-match series, the Indians were sitting pretty when the second 'Test' started at Chennai. After looking at the belter of a wicket that K Parthasarathy, the curator, served up, Roger Binny knew that the game was all but over. "You can play for ten days on this wicket. It's such a featherbed," he confided. The former Indian all-rounder, however, is not one to whine about these things. Although it was an observation he made, there's no hint of complaint in that statement.
The England camp on the other hand are up against the wall already. With coach Tim Boon plumping for Panesar and his left-arm spin, the England team have really fallen short in the bowling department. Panesar has figures of 4/320 from the two matches he's played. Hardly match-winning stuff. The medium-pacers have a done a tidy job so far but have been a touch short of inspiration. Andrew McGarry has steamed in and done his bit admirably. How long can a bowler bend his back on a flat pitch under hot, humid conditions? Even when he did manage to put the Indians on the back foot with a five-over burst, the pressure was eased when there was a bowling change.
While the series has looked up and down so far, in truth it has been much more steady. There's been a standard English output, wavering from the tired to the just about effective. In response, the Indians have been patchy too. However, when they have managed to hit the high notes, they have made it count. The first 'Test' was won in one session of creating the right pressure and bowling to the situation. The second 'Test' was drawn in one session of aggressive batting. That has been the state of play so far.
From the days of the British Raj in India, the English are famous for high tea and cookies. Only sometimes, the tea is too weak and the cookie crumbles.
England Under-19s in India Youth Test Series
England Under-19s in India Youth ODI Series
England Under-19s tour of India
MA Chidambaram Stadium