India must not have imagined they'd be 0-2 down in the series
With Zaheer Khan and Gautam Gambhir recovering, Team India's injury problems have been taken care of for the time being. But that, says Bikash Mohapatra, is little to assuage the long term problems it faces.
It couldn't have been worse.
One of the most-hyped series in recent times is turning out to be a damp squib.
When they set foot on English soil, in the second week of July, Team India must not have imagined they would be 0-2 down in the four-match Test series.
Almost everything was in their favour. Having won their first World title in 28 years in April, thereby ensuring mass hysteria, India, with a considerably depleted side had trumped the West Indies in both the Tests and ODI series days before alighting in England.
Besides, their record was something to boast of. Since assuming the No.1 ranking in December 2009, they had lost only three of the 18 Tests played (winning nine), thereby comfortably retaining their stranglehold over the top spot.
Image: Sachin Tendulkar talks to Duncan Fletcher during a practice session at Lord's cricket ground
Zaheer's injury shattered Team India's plan at Lord's
However, the Indian team was well aware that all was at stake in England. If their hosts won the series by a margin of two Tests, the No.1 ranking would be theirs.
Then, there was a sense of history as well -- the opening Test at Lord's being the 2000th Test, and the 100th between the two nations involved.
Having won the toss in overcast conditions and accounting for both the England openers early, India seemed to be in the driver's seat. Then the script went for a toss.
Their bowling spearhead, Zaheer Khan, limped off the ground (with a hamstring injury) after bowling just 13.2 overs. The other bowlers, despite working hard, could hardly threaten the England batsmen. The result: a resounding 196-run defeat.
Image: Zaheer Khan leaves the field with a hamstring injury at Lord's
Harbhajan's absence may be a blessing in disguise
The second Test at Trent Bridge was worse. Having lost the grip over the match twice over, the visitors ended up being thrashed by a whopping 319-run margin.
If that was not bad enough, worse was to follow.
At the end of the two Tests, the number of players joining the injury list reached boiling point. While Zaheer and Gautam Gambhir had suffered in the opening Test, the cases of Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh were so bad that they had to be ruled out of the rest of the series.
It is imperative here to mention that Harbhajan's absence might just be a blessing in disguise for him. The offie had come in for huge criticism for non-performance, having claimed just two wickets in four innings.
Image: Harbhajan Singh
Expecting Sehwag to fire straightaway not practical
And even as the team tried to get some practice in the two-day game against Northants, there was news that may be construed as either positive or negative, depending on the way one looks at it.
Ahead of the third Test, starting next week at Edgbaston (Birmingham), India welcomed back Virender Sehwag, who missed the opening two Tests with injury, Gambhir and Zaheer. Besides, Virat Kohli and Pragyan Ojha have been drafted in as replacements for Yuvi and Bhajji respectively.
While their availabilities might bolster the squad on paper, the reality is somewhat different. Sehwag hasn't played any cricket whatsoever in three months, and to expect him to fire straightaway seems a bit too far-fetched.
Besides, his record on English soil isn't very impressive.
Image: Virender Sehwag
Injury problems taken care of
Same is the case with Zaheer. The 32-year-old did bowl during the nets for two successive days but is yet to attain full fitness. Making a hasty decision in his case might just prove detrimental in the long run.
As regards, Kohli and Ojha they would, and should, be taking time to acclimatise with the conditions. The duo, unlike Sehwag, can rest easy as they are not certainties -- Gambhir and Amit Mishra are up in the pecking order.
With a few key players recovering, and a couple of reinforcements, the injury problems in the Indian team have been taken care of for the time being. But that can do little to assuage the long term problems it faces.
Image: Pragyan Ojha
Younger lot showing no enthusiasm
Playing cricket throughout the year, with negligible break, has definitely taken its toll on the players. Most of them seemed tired and unfit; the body language was clearly showing.
With the best players not getting younger, it is for the younger lot to show more enthusiasm. That's simply not happening.
The absence of Zaheer takes the sting out of the attack. The support bowlers may be effective at times, but they don't intimidate the opposition batsmen. Same is the case with the Indian batting. Take out the three veterans -- Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman -- and the rest of the batting looks brittle, and susceptible.
Image: Abhinav Mukund
Long term solution needed to fight nagging problems
Add to these a non-performing captain and you realize, while Team India's immediate objective is to try and save the ongoing series (thereby its top ranking), the long term aim should be to find a solution to its many persisting problems.
As things stand, reaching the top hasn't been difficult for the Indian team. Staying there, for a longer time, might well be.
The series in England, in that sense, has been an eye opener.
Image: Mahendra Singh Dhoni with coach Duncan Fletcher