Full marks to Dhoni, not India
It was, admittedly, a bad toss to lose, given the intermittent rain than has bathed London this week, thereby leaving residual moisture on a pitch with a thin layer of grass on it. And unsurprising that England's skipper Alastair Cook invited India to take first strike.
India's purple patches abroad under Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid and earlier in the mid-1980s were more often than not founded on helpful opening partnerships. This has deserted India in the current series.
Even in South Africa and New Zealand last winter, the openers clicked at least occasionally. Presently, both Shikhar Dhawan and Gautam Gambhir have been all at sea, while Murali Vijay's early promise has melted away.
To compound the tourists' problem, their middle order failed once more. Therefore, it was left to captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni to shepherd the tail.
Dhoni's batting is all forearm and no footwork other than to step out to minimise the swing, not to mention an increasingly adept judgement in terms of leaving the ball outside the off stump. Yet, he's been putting runs on the board.
The chances are, with sunshine - which is forecast for the next three days, but was mostly absent Friday - the wicket will dry out into a beauty for batting.
So, India are staring down a barrel, and only effective exploitation of cloud cover and resilient batting in the second innings can prevent defeat in the series.
How did it go so horribly wrong after the triumph in the second Test at Lord's?
Complacency, technical inadequacy in batting and the avoidable distraction of the James Anderson affair - for which Dhoni is responsible - have caused the catastrophe.
It is no consolation that India's most experienced bowler and man-of-the-match at Lord's Ishant Sharma was unavailable for selection due to injury in the last two tests.
Without a stable opening pair there will be crisis. At the same time, a percentage of such crises should be overcome by the middle order. When neither occurs it becomes a riddle which cannot be solved.
Is a five Test series an assignment insurmountable for the modern generation of Indian cricketers? Quite possibly, for concentration over such an extended period is not easy if you are not accustomed to it. However, that is no excuse.
As a professional cricketer you are expected to deliver. That said, to use a cliche, Anderson can make the ball talk.
Time and again he has made the ball swing away from middle stump, thus forcing the batsman to play at it and eliciting an outside edge. This time, though, Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan joined the party.
The former, crucially, removed Vijay - the only one of the specialist batsmen showing a semblance of resistance - consumed in the slips.
Technically, the departures of Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane were soft dismissals; caught attempting to leave the ball, bowled off the arm, leg before wicket shouldering arms and caught and bowled respectively.
They amount to too many gifts to the opposition in one innings, signifying mental fragility.
(Posted on 16-08-2014)
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