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India's home advantage destroyed


Jamie Alter,Cricketnext.com
Nov 26, 2012 at 03:07pm IST

Looking back three and a half days, it is difficult to comprehend that India began the second Test on Friday morning with serious thoughts of taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in Mumbai. MS Dhoni won the toss having stacked his team with three frontline spinners, and having called for a rank turner after the win in Ahmedabad he thus had a great opportunity to take advantage by batting first before the pitch started to crumble. With a big first-innings total, like in the first Test, India could pile on the pressure to their spin-weary opponents. Or so Dhoni’s plan went.

Less than ten sessions later, the momentum of India’s nine-wicket win in Ahmedabad and their cloak of invincibility at home were cut to shreds after a crushing defeat by ten wickets. Though Dhoni did not choose to blame the Wankhede pitch after defeat and admitted his spinners were disappointing, England captain Alastair Cook had no doubt that the difference between victory and defeat was a simple difference in the way the two teams batted and bowled. That is how cricket matches are won, and India were very, very poor in comparison to England.

Every captain has that one match he is remembered for, and by this we are not talking of success. For Sourav Ganguly it was Nagpur 2004; for Mohammad Azharuddin it was Lord’s 1990; and for Rahul Dravid it was Mumbai 2006. For Dhoni it will be Mumbai 2012. Eight consecutive Test losses overseas will forever be tagged with Dhoni’s legacy, but this is a blot that will never be removed. India losing to England inside four days at home is bad, very bad. Dhoni cannot be blamed for India’s failings in this match, but he will be held responsible for bringing in three spinners and yet again using defensive fields. The sheer efficiency with which England smashed the psychological barrier that they cannot win in India has left Dhoni utterly powerless to respond.

India's home advantage destroyed

Given a rank turner after he called for it, MS Dhoni oversaw one of India's most embarrassing home defeats of all time.

India were not just outplayed; they were crushed. Years from now if someone comes across the scorecard and reads that India were beaten in Mumbai by ten wickets on the fourth morning by an England side, they could mistakenly assume that this was a minefield and that the visiting side had brought back Jim Laker and Hedley Verity from the grave.

That is as far from the truth as possible. India were beaten by two attacking spinners in Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann and let down by two of their primary spinners – emphatically, it must be said – and their batting was substandard. It was poor cricket from the side with less stacked against them.

Having come plummeting down from Ahmedabad, India must re-examine their strengths and weaknesses. Dravid pointed out that India cannot suddenly become a bad team in four days, but they cannot afford to be so confused, at a loss for words. There is no sugar-coating the pill when a side loses by ten wickets before lunch on day four. Dhoni got exactly what he wanted – a surface that saw the ball turn early on and a toss that gave him a huge advantage – but ended on the wrong side of an embarrassing defeat.

This Test was supposed to be dominated by India’s spinners, but instead it was the England pair of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann who outbowled, outthought and outshone India’s three slow bowlers. Panesar and Swann took 19 wickets between them in 121.2 overs. Pragyan Ojha, R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh managed nine in 103.3 overs. That’s where the match was won and lost. . Ojha emerged from defeat with his reputation intact after dismissing five of England’s top six in the first innings, but Ashwin has crashed down to earth and Harbhajan looks like being stuck on 99 Test matches.

The batting was even poorer. Apart from Cheteshwar Pujara, Ashwin and Gautam Gambhir no batsman reached fifty. In the second innings, numbers two to seven managed 41 runs between them. Yuvraj Singh had a forgettable match, unable to cope with spin. Sachin Tendulkar must take a look at what he brings to the team, having now not reached 20 in his last six Test innings. Virat Kohli could benefit from watching Pujara more closely to see what difference lies between them in Test cricket.

What a difference three days can make. On Friday morning Cook’s brow was furrowed after he lost the toss. Come Monday morning, and he was beaming from ear to ear. England now hold the advantage going into the Eden Gardens Test after their best performance in India in as long as the memory serves. It wasn’t supposed to be like that, was it India?

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