Yeah, I’ll hit the bottom
Hit the bottom and escape
-“Weird Fishes”, Radiohead
It told us volumes about what was to happen over the span of the last three days of the third Test match at Edgbaston. And doesn’t bode well for the Oval either. On day two in Birmingham, India descended to the depths, laid siege to the nadir and comprehensively conquered the pits. For if there ever was a truly disheartening and depressing day for an Indian cricket fan, this was it and it brooks no competition whatsoever.
It wasn’t so much the 372 run shellacking they got (and if not for the somnolence in Cook’s mammoth knock, this number could have been higher). Neither was it the meager 3 wickets they struggled to pick up all day, every wicket coming as a surprise since they hadn’t looked like they were capable of prying one out. Neither of these were enough to make Indian fans tear out clumps of hair watching their television screens in disbelief.
It was them. It was the glazed look in their eyes, their shuffling feet and their drooping shoulders. It was in their insipid flatness. A pint of Tetley’s Bitter left out in the backyard for a month would have packed more fizz. Yes, they looked done. Like toast. This on the second day of a Test match which offered them a chance at redemption, mind you.
But the warning signs were there even in the first Test at Lord’s. As Prior and Broad started to fight back after Ishant had pushed England into a corner with a burst of wickets, I had watched the Indians in complete bewilderment on the field. Watched them lose all focus and shuffle around listlessly. Raina buzzed around for a while trying to perk up the bowlers and anyone within shoulder slapping distance and then pulled down the shutters too. The change in the field between overs seemed torturous as eleven sad puppies moped their way into fielding positions. It was surreal.
Yes, England have hunted them relentlessly in a pack – a pack of eleven. Their bowling has been glorious and frankly spectacular. England’s batsmen have produced gems all through the tour with everyone starring at absolutely critical match moments. In the face of this, India’s batting has been miserable, failing to reach 300 in 6 attempts – barring two superb knocks by Dravid. The wafer-thin bowling attack was hung out to dry on the very first day of the tour. Nothing has gone right.
There is no shame in admitting that they have been out-thought, out-planned and out-played in every department of the game. It is even possible to stomach the result while admitting that they really came up against it this time, causing them to unravel irreparably.
But it is the manner, demeanor and body-language of their capitulation that is going to rankle for a long time. The bad taste from this tour that will be impossible to rinse away lies not as much in the result, but in the lasting image of the collective shoulder droop and aimlessness that has afflicted this team from the first day of the tour. They have looked miserable and defeated before they were defeated or any misery was heaped on them. How did this come to be?
They have painted a depressing and insipid picture on the field right through the tour – barring one session at Lord’s (Ishant) and one at Trent Bridge (Sreesanth). And for a team notorious for its sloppy fielding, they have outdone themselves with a spectacularly lackadaisical display this time. They have been atrocious.
Only Raina has looked like he understood his responsibility as a fielder out there. Dravid and Tendulkar have given it their earnest best in spite of the former grassing a bunch in the slips. But the rest have been appalling. Dhoni’s gloves have chomped furiously at routine navel-high deliveries like a dog maneuvering a biscuit towards its molars. Harbhajan just drove me insane for two Tests as he went through the motions like he really couldn’t be bothered. And I could not bear to look at Yuvraj as he lorded over some remote part of the field in slow-motion, swaggering like an overlord condescendingly mingling with the serfs. Yes, Viru is Viru – but watching him putter around laughing and smiling as it all collapsed on day two was disconcerting.
The frustrating experience of sitting in the stands and watching them go through the motions every time England dug in or lashed out is going to hurt for a long time. I had even developed an irrational and morbid fascination of watching Laxman in the slips, as he stood there looking all genteel, posing like a suave model in his flannels, hands delicately placed in his pockets, liberating them coyly for two seconds well after he was into his crouch in the slips – only to slip them back in before straightening up. Ball after ball.
Praveen Kumar, the most inexperienced player in the side was the lone beacon of light in the grim darkness. Suddenly thrust into the role of the spear-head of the bowling, the lad was a revelation. For he never flagged, even as he toiled relentlessly, throwing every bit of his limited repertoire at the batsmen in long and lonely spells. Even more heartening was his attitude, his willingness to throw down the gauntlet and get into it when the heat rose. He has rapidly risen to the level of a cult-figure in the eyes of the public and the press here in England. For as a spearhead with no wood backing it, his willingness to fight his way out of trouble endeared him to one and all.
This is not the time to single out anyone, bring up the scheduling, the issue of preparedness or technical flaws. Or pride – for there is no reason to doubt the abundance of that in this Indian dressing room. But it is the collective deflation of a side and their utter inability to drag themselves off the mat time and again that is distressing.
In the end, the result aside, all we wished was for them to stand their ground, plant their feet, straighten their back – and just swing and lash out when the chips were down. Bare their teeth. Once.
But sadly, we were left with the image of the No.1 team in the world wandering around listlessly, despondent, staring at their shoe-laces and into space as eleven determined English hands made a furious lunge for the trophy.
All that remains is the fourth and final Test match at the Oval. And now Indian cricket fans face the prospect of awaiting it with a resigned trepidation. For the only thing left now is to see if the rubble in this ruin can crumble any further. A puff of powdery dust would be an apt remnant of this depressing tour.
And unlike at the Oval in 2007, the one Indian player whose entire career stands as an anti-thesis to the abject capitulation that the team has portrayed on this tour isn’t around anymore. For he was one who never contemplated, considered or even knew the meaning of giving up. And he tended to bat quite well too at the Oval, scoring a century the last time around, dazzling an entire nation with that endearing grin of delight. Hell, India could desperately do with just that batting this time around.
Or just the glare of those intense eyes, just the profile of that legendary uncompromising jaw.