Of the two sides fighting for the No.1 Test spot, only one stepped up to the plate; that side was not India.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni won hearts with his sporting act on the third day of the second nPower Test series.
His team’s performance, however, raised a lot more questions.
The best batting line-up in the world failed to live up to its reputation. They have not crossed 300 in four innings.
One would like to believe that this is an aberration. But their recent performance in the West Indies belies the lie. Just one 300+ score in six innings. The Indians escaped because the Caribbean side did not have the batting wherewithal to hurt them.
No such qualms with Andrew Strauss’ men.
They displayed talent, audacity, form, touch and execution—traits the Indians sorely lacked.
The difference in the two sides was even more clear in the bowling department. The loss of Chris Tremlett was a mere hiccup, the absence of Zaheer Khan was a catastrophe.
Harbhajan Singh was disheartened by the lack of turn afforded by the English pitches. Graeme Swann soldiered on.
Rahul Dravid was the only Indian bat standing tall among the ruins. His two centuries saved Team India the blushes.
The English have Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior and Ian Bell among their tonners. Tim Bresnan almost joined the élite trio scoring 90 in the second innings. Stuart Broad is being hailed as the second coming of Ian Botham.
The English have a settled look to their line-up. Alistair Cook and Andrew Strauss failed to fire at the top but the rest picked up the slack rising to the occasion.
For the Indians, Gautam Gambhir’s absence was a big blow. Yes, this Indian side does not lack excuses.
The likes of VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar did not weigh in with big enough scores. They dazzled only to deceive.
Yuvraj Singh was smooth in his return to Test cricket. Suresh Raina enhanced his reputation. However, half-centuries are mere blimps when the opposition is piling up big hundreds.
The English bowlers do not have a spearhead like Dale Steyn, Zaheer Khan or Mitchell Johnson but Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan are wicket-taking bowlers in their own right. More importantly, they keep the pressure on the batsmen while recognising their limitations and carrying out plans to a nicety.
The English batsmen thrived in home conditions. A series against Sri Lanka was an ideal warm-up for the series against India.
The Indians, too, could have been equally ready had not top players opted to rest themselves for sundry reasons.
The English top order have come in with a plan to see out the new ball i.e. bat out the first 20 overs and capitalise on the softness and lack of pace of the older ball. Yet it is a plan easier conceptualised than executed. That’s where the rub lies.
England’s tall scores—474 for 8 at Lords and 544 at Trent Bridge—saw just two wickets fall in the first 25 overs.
The English were simply better prepared. The Indians were caught napping. There was no respite because there was no plan B.
The English dominated. The Indians will rue their few lost opportunities.
This is five-day cricket, after all. It is about taking it session by session as the Indians have often emphasised at home. It must be galling for MS Dhoni and his men that the talk was walked by the opposition.
Hope springs eternal in the breast of Indian fans. Can the men in blue come back and level the series? Saurav “Dada” Ganguly certainly believes so.
Pride is on the line.