One a rare Saturday in my life, I had one thing in common with Sunny Gavaskar, David Lloyd & Naseer Hussain – none of us had ever seen Ajinkya Rahane bat before! What we all saw – the composure while facing the current best Test bowling attack, the assured feet movement and the excellent strike rate – was heartening to say the least. Kudos to the selection committee for finally getting something right, after howlers in form of picking Dravid, RP Singh and Jadeja for the ODI squad.
The ESPNSTAR commentary team, led by Shastri, predicted 220-230 as good score after inspecting the Chester-le-Street track. Spunky character Parthiv thought “‘Raha-ne’ de, let’s show that the highly paid commentators erred atleast 25 per cent off the mark”. For the first 15 overs of the game, there were just four desperate lbw appeals from the bowling team – all thick inside edges. It took the commentators as late as the 28th over to realize that 300 was very much on; on a pitch and crowd noise, which resembled more sub-continental than English.
Or should I say England? Shastri’s quote of the day “seems India playing a Rest of the World XI” was more apt – with the host team fielding a motley collection of players originating from three continents. The cherry on the cake, however, came two days ago when a local newspaper headline screamed “Ravi & Patel undo India” – referring to the sole T20 game which England won.
India batted the full 50 overs at the Riverside ground, in itself an achievement, considering how the summer went. Although they finished with a score, 30 runs short of what should have been, they didn’t have anyone complaining – certainly not the fans who spent two depressing monsoon months watching the Men in Blue struggling to even reach 275.
This has been a tour where, barring four Test match days in July, England hardly had to earn much – most of the times getting gifts (and umpiring decisions) on a platter. India played two Tests with a bowler short and three Tests with a batting lineup so messed up that all key players played out of position. Finally, when India got all fit batsmen in the squad lined up for the first ODI, one of them got injured in a washout game.
At the time of writing, India have called on 28 players at Queen’s territory – they may have budgeted for 20 at most – and are likely to add to it with Sachin’s fitness in major doubt. Experts can blame IPL or excess cricket or the World Cup stress, but the probability of this occurring was always very very low.
The weekend game started with Sachin being ruled out. It’s been that sort of tour – whenever things seemed at par or India had upper hand, things went worse for the guests.
India’s young openers started brightly today, smashing the bowlers to 82/0 by the 16th over in testing conditions – reducing Anderson, Dernbach and Broad to snarl, sledge and swear. Out of the blue, the tide turned, as two quick wickets came England’s way. One of which was undeserved; exposing yet again, how cold ‘hotspot’ is and how the third umpire, on basis of scant evidence, used his subjective opinion to overturn the field umpire’s call. The entire drama further denting the role of on-field umpires – Billy Doctrove looked a bigger and fatter fool, than what those excess sweaters/jackets made him on a chilly morning.
An hour later, Virat and Parthiv guided India to a grand 190/2 in the 37th over, when tragedy struck again – the two set batsmen fell on either side of Rohit retiring hurt – making sure England came back with minimum effort. Rohit Sharma’s international outing lasting just four balls, played over two games.
Two and half hours later, India were back on top. PK’s immaculate line and high quality swing bowling keeping captain Cook and his partner guessing; eventually send them back to the kitchen. Indian supporters finally eyed a victory, the locals prayed for another story. The rain gods listened, and then obliged, fast and quick
It’s been that sort of tour. English experts, commentators can rebuke and ridicule India, can call the players ‘donkeys’ and make further 4-0, 5-0 predictions. India were numero uno for a long time enough to have earned their pride of place. Even if the rankings don’t back them at any point, they will still be carrying the “World Champion” tag for another four years.
England have just been crowned number one, and they need to prove that ranking in the first place, before any talk of domination starts. Prove by holding onto it the next six months; prove by playing away from home, with the pressure to win every game; prove by winning in vicious turners of the subcontinent; prove with key players falling by injured; prove by winning with no luck by their side.
Till that time, “Raha-ne de England”.