Sunday, November 04, 2012

When the English were annihilated!!!

The situation wasn't the same but quite similar. India has had a horrific year or so in the past. Test series in Australia was lost by 4-0 and only test playing nation they defeated in World Cup was Pakistan. India almost ended up following on in Zimbabwe’s debut test match. Later, test series in South Africa was lost by 1-0 and ODI series by 5-2. The ever so strong Indian team on paper had once again tasted the bitter truth.

Questions were being raised about quality of the team, poor selection, poor management and BCCI’s vision for Indian cricket.

Public opinion was that BCCI wasn’t really bothered about Indian cricket. On the other hand England which was slated to tour India within a month had sent one of the senior members of England’s support staff to Johannesburg to watch the test match and spy on India’s performers and their performances. On the only shining light for India in the Johannesburg, a leg spinner who took six wickets in South Africa’s second innings, he said “But he didn’t turn a single ball”. His assessment about the leg spinner can be counted as one of the worst in the history of cricket. Anil Kumble never believed in turning the ball – he believed in tormenting the batsmen and that’s what he did in next series and subsequent years.

Azharuddin’s performance as a batsman had gone from bad to worse in last year and a half. He was sure to lose his captaincy, if not the place in the side as well. Yet the selectors, with no real options as a captain to replace him, decided to give him one more chance for the first test in the series. His bashers were over the moon and had almost declared that next test was going to be his last, at least as a captain. They had missed one important point though – the most important one.

Azhar was going to play his last test in Eden – as ground where he could have put gallons of petrol on himself, jumped in a fire and yet walked out of it totally unhurt.

The first day of the first test in Eden is known for Azhar’s second career saving century in 4 years – first came in Faisalabad in Pakistan when he played just because someone else wasn’t fit enough and saved his career. It was a typical Azhar innings – elegant, classy and full of wrists.

Yet a score of 371 looked like too small for the opponents who had some good names. Last time India and England had met for a test series; Gooch had scored one triple hundred, two more hundreds and two fifties in a 3 match series. Gatting was supposedly known as murderer of spinners in England. Graeme Hick was better than Bradman in county cricket. Robin Smith was extremely talented. England batted till number eight – Lewis was an excellent all rounder.

But England was in for a shock – a big one.

I don’t know it just happened or it was a well thought of plan or a mixed of both, but duo of Ajit Wadekar and Azharuddin had unearthed an excellent plan to dominate test cricket on Indian soil – with two genuine all rounder’s in the side, play three specialist spinners, dish out turning tracks to the tourists, pile up runs and let the pressure take its toll. If England could throw Lord’s at us, if Australia could make us hop and jump in Perth and if South Africa could bounce us out in Durban, there was nothing wrong in returning the favor.

Once England’s age old theory of “sweep anything that a spinner bowls” was crushed by Rajesh Chauhan’s off spin, Raju’s leg spin and Kumble’s leg spin, in England’s first innings in Eden, the series became a formality with India winning 3-0. England didn’t even put up a fight – like we didn’t do it last year. There were few sparks of brilliances like Lewis’s century in second test or Hick’s magnificent 178 in Wankhede but it all stopped at that.

Instead of introspecting, England looked more interested in finding the most bizarre excuses – from small beds in hotel rooms to Taj, Chennai serving stale prawns, from sub standard pitches to too much noise made by the crowd, from Indian weather to the breeze in Chepauk which carried the stink of a drainage passing nearby the stadium.

Truth was that they were no match to us in that series. They didn’t even put up a fight.

Success shows us many stars. Vinod Kambli announced himself to test cricket. India’s spin trio was being compared with the quartet of 70s. With Kambli, Sachin and Amre scoring doing the duties in Indian middle order,  Ramakant Achraker could easily have been declared batting coach of the side. Suddenly, the team which couldn’t win anything had started looking invincible.

With what happened on 6th December 1992 and its aftermath, this dominance over England did provide a bit of euphoria. With a proper test series outside subcontinent being 3 years away, the 3-0 win over England did give us belief of having winning formula in pocket – play three spinners, play on turning tracks and let the rest happen. In turn it made us believe that we are really that good especially when India’s next proper test series, outside the subcontinent, didn’t happen for next three years.

Well, we are not very different now. Not many years have been as bad as last year – last two trips outside the subcontinent have been horrendous. But we will not be playing outside the subcontinent till the end of next year. On top of that England is coming; or rather it has already come when like 1992, most of Indian cricketers were returning from South Africa.

Do we dish out square turners or be stupidly brave enough to give them “sporting pitches”. But there is one major difference between 1993 and 2012. We could have blindly given them dustbowls with knowledge that our batsmen could play spin with hands tied at their back. This time, there is no assurance about our own batting, though.

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