India’s richest sportsmen came crashing down in the Test series against England just as athletes from impoverished backgrounds put up a stellar show in the Asian Games. Comparisons can be odious, but it does seem that when it comes to consistency of application of skills and display of the will to win, the cricketers are way behind. The top ranking that Team India still holds only shows how Test cricket itself has become loaded in favour of home teams as none of them seem good enough to win away series in competitive conditions. For India, the problem is severe as the cricketers haven’t won a single away series in their last nine outside Asia, save one in the Caribbean against an impoverished West Indies side that has seen far better days. Indians aren’t world-beaters in all conditions.
For a side that fancies itself as capable of performing anywhere, Team India was always chasing England and folded even in the fourth Test, where it had cobbled a slender lead. Chasing fourth innings targets on wearing pitches in conditions where the ball is still swinging and seaming was beyond the capacity of this Indian batting lineup. There are hardly three batsmen of real Test class, with Virat Kohli head and shoulders above everyone else in the cricket world currently. Too many of them who graduated from the slam-bang versions of the game were not up to scratch in the test of technique and temperament Test cricket is, more so in England where bowlers are never out of the picture. What made the defeat in the fourth Test galling is an English spinner wove a web around the Indian batsmen — thought to be capable of tackling slow bowling in their sleep — and snared them to defeat.
The hyped team of multi-millionaires is a bundle of contradictions. Just when India has assembled a pace attack lethal enough to be a consistently potent force overseas, its batsmen are letting down the image of the national side of wristy batsmen and sinuous spin bowlers. Teams with batsmen of the calibre of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman and Sourav Ganguly were the gold standard in terms of sheer application at the batting crease. However, they didn’t have the support of such fast bowlers in profusion like Kohli’s team. To be fair, at least two of three Tests lost were extremely hard fought and grit and application could have swung the balance. The failure is starker as the current generation of cricketers doesn’t lack anything by way of encouragement, training and fitness. English conditions do present the toughest challenge and India has been bowled over thrice in this decade — 4-0, 3-1 and now trailing 3-1 in a five-Test series. Another dream of becoming mighty travellers has been shattered despite the captain’s heroics.