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Can’t bowl, can’t bat — Test cricket in crisis in India

Obsession with T20 leaves the hosts clueless

Gulf News

London: India thought they were going to whop England 4-0 after winning the first Test. But they failed to analyse their own players and did not realise they are not as good as they think they are, or even as good as the Indian public think they are.

The difference between the teams is that England are always looking to improve. But this Indian side are happy living on past glories. There are individuals who have been exceptional, such as Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann, but I feel as a team unit England have played with more determination, energy and drive than India.

Whether it has been fielding or bowling, England have looked like a side who want to win. A good example is the seam bowlers, who have a very difficult time taking wickets in India because they play on grassless, dry pitches that do not move or bounce much, which can sap the desire out of any quality fast bowler. But James Anderson and Steven Finn have kept charging in, putting India under pressure through the intensity of their effort, so even when the spinners have not been bowling, the batsmen have not had an easy ride.

Although the spinners will rightly get most of the credit for the wickets they have taken, the fast bowlers and fielders have played a big part. They have never let up in desire and determination, which has been brilliant to watch, and it must be very pleasing for Cook as a new captain. England now have a golden chance to win only their fourth series in India. Cook can follow Douglas Jardine in 1934, Tony Greig in 1976-77, and David Gower in 1984-85.

That gives you an idea of how damn difficult it is to get India down in their own backyard. England have deservedly done it through sheer bloody-mindedness, perseverance and talent. I think Cook’s team have a great chance of beating them in Nagpur because too many of the Indian batsmen are not playing very well. They have shown a lack of patience and adaptability.

This country is crazy on Twenty20 since the onset of the Indian Premier League. Their own players are earning such huge sums, which were unthinkable five years ago. And this is affecting their technique, mental attitude and perspective on cricket. Every kid is only interested in watching 20 overs and growing up to be a T20 player. With this sort of mindset and the amount of 20-over and 50-over cricket the India team play, I do not totally blame them for finding it difficult to adapt from so much one-day stuff to playing a proper batting game in Test matches.

It is their batsmen letting them down more than their spinners. OK, their spinners are not great. Pragyan Ojha and Ravichandran Ashwin are not bad bowlers but in two Test matches, the batsmen have failed to take the opportunity of winning the toss on flat pitches. India always used to post huge totals in their own country and put the opposition under pressure. Now the batsmen make so many sloppy errors, loose shots and have technical deficiencies in footwork.

I have never seen an Indian batting side play such slack, loose and appalling shots in their own country. This is their own territory where they have reigned supreme. They usually bat people out of the game. Now they could not bat their way out of a paper bag. And this is the fundamental problem with Indian cricket.

The great players have gone. Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman have retired and Sachin Tendulkar is a shadow of the great batsman of the past. Their best technical young batsman, Virat Kohli, who has been lauded to the high heavens after last year’s performances, has had five innings and played five awful shots in this series.

After a double and a single hundred that helped them win the first Test and should have helped them do better at Mumbai, Cheteshwar Pujara has had three failures and there is nobody else you can rely on to make runs. Gautam Gambhir has had two half-centuries but plays like a cat on a hot tin roof, jumping around and it is never a surprise to me when he gets out. Yet, this guy is the highest paid player in IPL with £1.54 million (Dh9 million) for six weeks’ work. I rest my case.

If the Indian board does not sort this out quickly, all the money in the world they make from IPL, television and sponsorship will not help keep Test cricket alive in India. But they have just doubled their money from the title sponsor of the IPL. It is all they are interested in. The focus is T20 until they lose. Maybe now it might make somebody wake up and redress the balance. If they lose to us in Nagpur they will have to change their own priorities.

— The Telegraph Group Limted, London 2012