India’s batsmen are like Bengaluru’s civic authorities (or any other Indian city, for that matter). Year after year everyone knows that there would be rains during monsoon months. Yet Bengaluru’s civic authorities look surprised when torrential rains strikes the city during that period and hence are repeatedly caught on the wrong foot.
This is a bit like the Indian batsmen. Sitting in India they would have known that they would be against the Duke ball which encourages swing and seam movement. They’d have also known that the experienced James Anderson and Stuart Broad would be the major swing threats. May be they would have also known that the English summer could be fickle – lots of rain interrupted by some play was a certainty.
Yet, time and again India’s best cricketers have been found wanting. It is not just this team. Look at the team of 1974. It had the biggest names in India’s batting: Maestro Sunil Gavaskar, ‘English pro’ Farook Engineer, Ajit Wadekar, GR Vishwanath, Brijesh Patel, Eknath Solkar, all-rounders Abid Ali and Madan Lal. But every single one of them was clueless on that distant day when India were routed for just 42 runs in just 17 overs at this very Lord’s ground!
May be we ought to be grateful that Friday’s innings lasted a little longer: 35.2 overs. But the legacy issues with swing and seam bowling have remained. If anything, they have only become worse since the advent of T20 and other limited-overs cricket.
In the 70s (1975 & 1979) even the World Cup was 60 overs a side. Even then some folks could not be coaxed to throw bat at ball.
Ironically this present team is confronted with a quandary that is the exact opposite: its members cannot keep their bat close to themselves! Sure, they know that they have to play with soft hands. Sure they know they have to play close to the body. Sure they know that they need to show the full face of the bat. But knowing is one thing and executing it is another thing altogether.
Take Murali Vijay, for example. He’s a smart guy. He knows an opening batsman has to play in the ‘Vee’ between mid-off and mid-on at least for the first hour or so. For this he needed to show the maker’s label to the bowler almost always. Yet, in the very first over of the match he played across the line — incredulously attempted to flick a late outswinger, if you please.
This was a schoolboy error. Any school team coach would have been livid at such an approach by his opening batsman in the first over of play. But that’s exactly what Vijay did; that too against one of the finest exponent of swing bowling, Anderson. Needless to add, the ball eluded the closing blade and smashed into his off stump.
The wicket pepped up the fielding side, especially as they had opted to bowl first. It also deprived India of their main bulwark against the swinging new ball.
Worse, it put Anderson, who bowls in such conditions for his bread and butter, on song. “We did not give them a single bad ball,” he bragged after play. But the Indians played plenty of bad shots.
“In conditions like these you are licking your lips and trying to show off your skills,” he crowed. “We didn’t let them get away.”
That’s what should rankle India’s batsmen. They were so ill prepared for swing bowling. If Vijay looked silly trying the flick, KL Rahul looked helpless when he reached out and edged to the keeper.
Cheteshwar Pujara, so conscious of his partner Virat Kohli’s fleet-footed running between the wickets, just ran himself out. He was middling the ball well and actually looked solid in that short stay.
Two batsmen who looked eminently clueless against swing were Dinesh Karthik and Hardik Pandya. The left-arm swing bowler Sam Curran could have driven his car through Karthik’s ‘gate’. He opted instead to slot his inswinger between the huge bat and pad gap. Karthik looked a novice when the ball slipped through his defence and struck timber.
To say that the Indians were all at sea in these conditions would be an understatement. They barely made it past the 100-mark. The final total of 107 was as pathetic as it looked.
The team though can take heart that a rear-guard action is possible. In 1979, at Lord’s again, an Indian batting line-up of Gavaskar, Chetan Chauhan, Dilip Vengsarkar, Vishwanath, Anshuman Gaekwad, Kapil Dev, Karshan Ghavri were routed by Ian Botham and co for a paltry 96.
But Vengsarkar and Vishwanath slammed centuries in the second essay to take the team to safe shores. A bit of application and a lot of determination could still do the trick for India. It just remains to be seen what sort of mettle this Indian batting line-up is made of.