A few days ago I asked the question, “Has England let the opportunity slip in the battle for No. 2 and chasing Australia?”
A win in Mumbai is now needed for England to remain in the race. Very difficult but it is the only way England can stop the opportunity from slipping. No one said the battle was ever going to be easy!
England did win in Mumbai and showed strength in the face of adversity. The persistance was evidant in the way England batted in the post tea session on Day 4 - with planning to go for the shots only once England felt safe. The persistance was also evident on Day 5. The pitch had not deteriorated. It was playing much better than most 5 day pitches play. England kept the ball in a line which made Indians play. Ball after ball this line was maintained. There was hardly any straying. The discipline and superb bowling effort was a pleasure to watch.
India has been defensive in mind set in this series. In the first test they went for the shots very late. That was when the score line read 0-0. Here the score line was 1-0. So it was unlikely that they would go for runs and risk drawing the series. The plan would be to play out the first session and a half or two sessions and if wickets are in hand after that, see if going for the target during a small phase is a good option.
This is where I think India erred. Defensive play is never a good option regardless of the situation. Dravid almost got into a shell and Tendulkar survived a few close LBW shouts which would have been plumb had they been a bit closer to the wicket. Safeguarding your wicket is needed in such situations. But in the process playing the natural game as far as possible should not be forgotten. If you let the bowlers dominate, they will gain in confidence and get on you sooner rather than later.
With the dismissals of Dravid and Tendulkar the inevitable occured. A game which was always going to be near impossible for India to win (no team has ever chased 300 in the 4th inning in India in more than 70 years of test cricket) would not be a battle of survival. But did India have a man for the job? An injured Sehwag, flashy Yuvraj and ultra flashy Dhoni do not enthuse confidence.
Lack of responsibility
Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh decided there was no chance India would win this match. Dhoni skied one but Monty Panesar was unsighted. Dhoni skiwed another one with the same shot. Panesar made no mistake this time. Harbhajan Singh played agressively and played a suicidal shot to get out while a specialist batsman in Yuvraj Singh remained at the other end. It didn’t matter what shots Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh had played to get out. The arrogance of the shot plays were infuriating enough.
It is never easy to lose a test match. That India did not compete against a battling England caused much more pain. There is no shame in fighting bravely and losing. But to not fight at all smacks of irresponsibility which has to be shunned. I do feel sorry for Anil Kumble here. He personifies consistent persistance. If only others had similar attitudes.
The race for number 2 continues to be enthralling despite India falling further. England, despite it’s throwing matches away from comfortable positions (Multan and Mohali) have managed regain lost ground. South Africa fought but lost the first test versus Australia. They have to do better in the remaining two tests. A fourth team in South Africa competing for the sport would make things much more interesting.
As things stand right now, England and Pakistan are neck and neck. It is nicely setup for Pakistan’s tour of England. I hope Shoaib Akhtar is fit and both teams are able to play their First XIs. England would want to come back strongly after their recent series loss in Pakistan. Pakistan would want to show that they are a team to be taken seriously and not a bunch of inconsistent performers. Pakistan has already started walking on this road with their recent performances. It is a matter of whether they have it in them to take the next step in England.
All said and done, the England in India series will be remembered most for the performances of Andrew Flintoff. He sacrificed the joy of seeing his son being born. He stood up to the challenge of captaining his side. He bowled. He even batted. In all this he kept battling on and inspiring his team mates to do the same. Flintoff won the Man of the Match for his performances in the third test and the Man of the Series. In between all this, he has also gained much more respect from cricket fans from around the world.
A superman in every sense of the word.