Now, surely, changes have to be made. India can no longer stick their heads in the sand and claim that more of the same is good enough. England have exposed the hosts’ soft underbelly. They have shown that India is a decent side when they are on top – as they were in Ahmedabad – but put them under pressure and this side folds like a cheap suit.
On Twitter, Tom Moody, the former Australian allrounder, asked if India have lost their hunger to fight. “Can’t see the recent past Dravid VVS, Ganguly, Kumble & co rolling over like this [sic]”, he wrote. Moody has a point and one needs to look no further than R Ashwin’s 83 not out to prove it.
When Ashwin walked to the wicket to join Virat Kohli, India were 122 for 6 and looking like they might not last until tea. India had appeared to be cruising at 86 for no loss (off just 21 overs) at lunch with Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag dominating the England attack. The wicket was still good for batting but then Swann bowled Sehwag first ball after lunch and suddenly it was amateur hour. Six wickets fell for 36 runs. MS Dhoni lasted a mere three deliveries before he poked at a James Anderson delivery to give Cook catching practice in the slips.
Kohli showed some fight in making a scratchy 20 from 60 balls but it was left to Ashwin to salvage a semblance of pride. He defended resolutely but also attacked when the bowlers erred in line or length, rarely allowing a scoring opportunity to pass him by. In doing so, he refused to let the England bowlers get on top and forced them to spread the field. He even unfurled a handful of reverse sweeps to keep Swann off balance. Matt Prior did miss a stumping chance off Panesar, but Ashwin capitalised on that mistake.
Equally significant was the way he handled the tail. When the spinners were operating, he trusted Ishant Sharma to hold up his end. When the fast bowlers were on, he turned down easy singles at the start of the over and shielded Ishant as much as he could. He wasn’t just thinking about his own batting. He was thinking about the team and intent on prolonging the match for as long as he could.
Once Pragyan Ohja, India’s no 11, came to the crease, Ashwin decided it was time to attack but was still able to keep Ohja away from the danger end as much as possible. The paid added 42 in 10.3 overs of which Ohja’s contribution was a mere three runs. Ashwin even managed a single off the last ball of the day to make sure he had the strike on the fifth morning. In doing so, he added 80 runs with the last two wickets, taking the match into the fifth day and India to 239 for 9.
It was a lesson in intelligent and thoughtful batting and showed that the pitch had no demons. That it came from a no 8 only serves to highlight the fragility of India’s top-order. If India are to salvage the series in Nagpur, they have to heed the lessons of Ashwin’s innings, and his temperament.