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The Real India finally stood up; now will the Real England please stand up?

India finally raised their game in the Third Test but England are yet to hit their stride despite leading the series.

Man-of-the-Match Hardik Pandya snares Jonny Bairstow. Image: CricketCountry

The secret to success they say is to plan well, prepare well and only then can you legitimately expect to win! This statement doesn’t ring any truer than in the case of the results India have attained thus far on their ongoing test series against England.

The starting point of course of all success is ‘Desire’. India arrived in England with a great desire to be the best travelling team in the world. The Indian media also built this series up as the best chance for India to win a series in the British Isles in 11 years. Somewhere along the line the Indian fan misunderstood desire for expectations and began imagining a triumphant return of the Indian team from their tour of the United Kingdom. Yet without witnessing Team India addressing the first 2 critical elements in their quest for success, how did they even fathom that Kohli and Co. could pull off the improbable?

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Indian team have for sometime now been underestimating the importance and value of these 2 key disciplines. They embarked on their tour of the United Kingdom way back in June with a T20 series against Ireland and a one-day series against the 3 Lions. They then prepared for the test series with a couple of 4 day warm up matches where the entire Indian contingent participated to get a feel of the conditions. This did not take on a competitive tone at all and all it did was give all the batters a hit and all the bowlers a bowl. They would have been better off playing a slew of 4 day practice matches with 11 a side on a rotation basis with a match feel to it. This would have at least ensured that by the time the test series began, the Indian team would have acclimatized themselves with the conditions and would have been better prepared to undertake one of their most important and challenging assignments of the year.

Unfortunately, this Indian team seems to be making a habit of using the opening couple of test matches as preparation and to iron out their plans, instead of entering the cauldron of test cricket battle ready. In South Africa earlier this year, they arrived just 5 days before the start of the test series and went into it without any practice games under their belt. By the time they got into their groove, the series was already lost and a consolation win was all that they could muster in a series that they could have won or at least drawn, had they planned and prepared adequately. They seem to be repeating the same mistakes here in England. Their lack of preparation was evident in the first 2 tests, when barring Virat Kohli and to an extent Pandya and Ashwin, no batsman seemed to have a clue as to how to handle the swinging ball. They also faltered in their planning when they chose to play left arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav in overcast conditions at the home of cricket. By the time they reached Trent Bridge they seemed to have sorted out all their issues and plans, which resulted in an emphatic win for them. The scoreline at the end of the 3rd test was 2-1, in favour of the English, which was identical to the one they had at the end of their test series in South Africa, in favour of the hosts. The saving grace for India this time around (for the moment at least) from another overseas series loss is that this is a 5 test series and they are still very much alive.

India finally turned up with a convincing victory at Trent Bridge. A despondent Joe Root after losing his wicket. Credit: Cricket Australia

England though have hardly been the superior team in this series. If anything at all, they in fact appear to be the weaker of the two sides despite the flattering scoreline. Their batsmen have struggled as much against the moving ball as the visitors’ batsmen have. Their fielders have dropped more catches than they have taken and could have rightfully earned the title of ‘Butterfinger Brits’. They have only just been saved by their world-class opening bowling duo of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad and a more than competent set of back up seamers -in these conditions- in Chris Woakes, Sam Curran and Ben Stokes, from being behind in the series. At Edgbaston, a pugnacious all-round effort from their young upcoming star Sam Curran helped them steal victory from the jaws of defeat. At Lord’s they won a crucial toss – in conditions in which their batsmen would have hardly fared any better than the tourists’ batsmen did, considering their below par return thus far - which literally won them the match. They have been only marginally ahead and as the home team, that does not inspire confidence. England will need their top 2 batsmen in Cook and Root to come to the party and a quality opening bat (in place of Jennings) to partner the stalwart will go a long way in ensuring England preserve if not consolidate their lead in the series.

It has been a fascinating contest so far, with fortunes fluctuating back and forth. The momentum is clearly with India but they would do well to remember that despite their commanding victory at Trent Bridge, they are still behind in the series and it would take a monumental effort from them if they are to overturn the hosts’ 2-1 lead to register their first series win in The Land of the Rose since 2007. They can ill-afford to be complacent. England will be definitely smarting after their defeat at Nottingham and they will come hard at the Indians at the Ageas Bowl. Both teams will be aware that a solitary victory for the hosts in the next 2 tests (or 2 draws) will help them wrap up a hat-trick of series wins against the no.1 ranked Test team. Team India will have to be at their absolute best if they are to avoid the ignominy of another away series loss. An England side firing on all cylinders will be hard to beat at home. The old saying –‘beware the wounded tiger’ would have been an apt warning for the hosts after their resounding victory at Lord’s. The Indians would do well to heed a similar warning ‘beware the wounded (3) Lion(s)’, when the 4th Test gets underway at Southampton. The real India finally stood up at Trent Bridge, now will the real England please stand up?

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