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By Suresh Menon
It was the most embarrassing hour of cricket I have seen in a long time. True, India won the Lord’s Test at the end of it, but this must be one of the most pathetic England teams in recent times. Four short deliveries in a series of short deliveries saw four batsmen scooping up catches straight to four fielders. Ishant Sharma emerged the hero and Man of the Match, but even he looked incredulous as each of seven victims contrived to get himself out.
Moeen Ali, who had batted with such resolve in the morning was surprised at a short-pitched delivery from Ishant which he popped up to short leg. There were many surprises here. That skipper Dhoni should suddenly take the short-pitched route and convince Ishant to bowl thus; that Ishant should change his length and fall into the plan so easily; and finally, that Moeen Ali should be surprised after Dhoni had virtually telegraphed his intentions to him.
And then the stuff hit the fan. Ishant bowled fast, pitched short and grinned in amazement as the batsmen threw themselves on their swords. In theory, this was no way to bowl – pitch it up, pitch it up would have been the cry – but theory stood no chance here.
It was like someone getting each step of a math problem wrong but somehow getting the overall answer right. Or a kid sitting at a word processor, typing the same key over and over again and somehow writing a Shakespearean sonnet. It was that ridiculous. Even Joe Root, who had been batting well and had even struck Ishant for boundaries soon after lunch to suggest that the strategy might be wrong fell for the same trick.
This England team lacks spark; perhaps this Test has seen a break in captaincy for Alistair Cook. But how many off form and uninspiring players can you drop?
Or is it time for major changes – out with the senior lot, Cook, Bell and a horribly out of touch Matt Prior – and including an unexpected promotion for Joe Root as captain?
The last time India toured, these problems belonged to them. Was it time to push the seniors out? Had Dhoni come to the end of his effectiveness as a Test captain? Should sentiment triumph over hard-edged pragmatism? Today India’s only worry is the wayward form of Stuart Binny. They can afford to rest him and play Ravi Ashwin in the next Test starting Sunday in Southampton.
If the series were to end today, Bhuwaneswar Kumar would clearly be the Man of the Series with over 200 runs and in excess of ten wickets in his bag. What is exciting for India – an excitement not felt since Kapil Dev hit his final boundary – is that even after five Tests, this might still be the case.
India might have unearthed a genuine all rounder almost as an afterthought. Two fifties in the opening Test, and another in the second suggest that India’s number nine batsman will soon get a promotion in the order. Add to that his six wickets in the first innings and a permanent place on the Lord’s honours board.
There is a serenity to his approach that hints at an inner peace not always associated with sportsmen. The manner in which he has played the fast bowlers off his legs – with wonderful timing and palpable joy – bodes well for a side that has been struggling to find the balance that an all rounder brings to a cricket team. There have been many faux all rounders, labeled thus in desperation, but few with the potential that Kumar has of scoring a century and claiming five wickets in the same Test.
But in the end, it was all Ishant Sharma. Seldom has an Indian bowler abroad looked likely to take a wicket every time he ran up to bowl. Ishant might have been helped by the batting, but it was good to see a definite plan in action. The danger is overdoing a formula that has once succeeded. History might not repeat itself over the next three Tests (but that is only theory!).
The new look Indian team holds out great promise. There is an energy and self-belief that is remarkable. That India won without a major contribution from their two best batsmen, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara bodes well too. “I love the way today’s Indian batsmen let the ball go outside the off stump,” said Kapil Dev, the last India captain to win a Test at Lord’s. A series win here, and Indian cricket can start dreaming of the No. 1 spot again.