Return to colour and enhanced positivity win the day for India

by vijay_chennupati

There is a scene in the movie Sholay, arguably the most iconic movie in Indian cinema, where one of the protagonists, resplendent in ‘Holi’ colors, tells her future father-in-law what roughly translates to ‘if colors were not there, how bleak would this world be.’ (The word-to-word translation, ‘if colors were not there, how colorless would this world be’, could find its way into Ravi Shastri’s ever popular commentary some day). Jokes apart, the analogy is very fitting in the context of India’s big win in the second ODI at Cardiff. The dab of blue certainly seemed to bring out an upgraded version of the lot which had meekly surrendered just about ten days back. Before I continue, I know that it is too early to rejoice, but I also know that if the Test at Lord’s was an example, then ‘rejoice while you still can’ is not a bad idea either.

We will soon come to know in a few days time if this performance was just a flash in the pan; what will be difficult to decipher is if the super-show yesterday was the result of a sprinkling of color, or if the new boss (as per BCCI at least) Shastri came up with a magical pep talk which rejuvenated the team. While this debate can rage on, I am fairly confident that infusion of positivity was the key differentiator, something which I wrote about in the lead-up to the series. When the game started, India seemed to be very much in the hangover of the Test series, with the score 26/2 at the end of the first 10 overs.

Though Virat Kohli will be chastised for getting out for a duck, this is where I spotted the first instance of positivity. Kohli, who could hardly move his feet in the Test matches, moved down the pitch in a flash and made a perfect connection with the ball – the timing was great as well, but unfortunately, the ball flew directly to Alistair Cook at mid-off and he took a good catch. Ajinkya Rahane kept up the momentum, but it was Suresh Raina, who I consider the most positive player in recent Team India squads, after Virender Sehwag, who took the bowling by the scruff of its neck. It was a sheer joy to watch positive intent translate into runs – an example being the straight six of Chris Woakes; it did not seem that Raina was planning to be aggressive that delivery, but the positive mindset allowed him to immediately switch into an attacking mode on seeing a perfect half volley. The top-edged six a couple of balls later was yet another example of reacting to the delivery as opposed to a pre-emption. While Shastri may chide him by calling him ‘a compulsive hooker’, the oodles of positivity flowing through a very fresh Raina put India firmly in the driver’s seat. Dhoni was his usual reliable-in-ODI self, and the fact that India crossed 300 meant that, to win, England would have to do something they only managed twice before in ODIs in the country.

When England came out to chase the target, revised to below 300 after a brief spell of rain, Alistair Cook’s negative mindset set the tone for the rest of the match. While debutante Alex Hale looked supremely confident, Cook hobbled about in a manner reminiscent of Indian batsmen in the final three Tests. When he eventually got out to Mohammed Shami, he seemed to have passed on the negativity to Ian Bell, who for some inexplicable reason thought that it might be a good idea to leave a ball which from the beginning was heading towards the middle-stump. The dismissal of Joe Root, the in-form batsman, to an unplayable delivery from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, sealed the match, in my opinion. Towards the latter half of the Test series, the frustration was very evident on Kumar’s face; this wicket will go a long way in healing some of his scars.

English batsmen then proceeded to present a colorized version of their capitulation to aggression during their second innings at the Lord’s Test. (for India’s sake, I would hope that the similarity ends there, knowing well what came next). Ravindra Jadeja, who scarcely managed a wicket in his final match of the Test series, was suddenly picking up wickets at will, Ashwin’s couple would help his confidence, and even the hero of India’s batting innings, Raina, picked up a wicket. While this was an excellent victory for India, the irony lies in the fact that the team which was supposed to be down after a mauling ten days back, was in fact the one with a more positive outlook, and that in the end, made the difference.

India flatter to embarrassingly deceive

There was one activity I frequently conducted during the week immediately after the Lord’s victory; watch as many re-runs of the match as possible. There were several, across multiple channels of the same broadcaster, given that it was a victory at the Mecca of cricket after nearly 30 years. I watched most of them, and my logic for inflicting such strain on my eyes was simple: if things did not go well in the next games, this moment would be forgotten, at least for now, so better lap it up to the maximum till the euphoria remains. I am sure that the memory will be fondly relived in the annals of Indian cricket in the years to come, but at the moment, with India being crushed in the ensuing two Tests, the Lord’s victory is the last thing on an Indian mind.

Had I written this piece at the end of the 3rd Test, the title would have read, ‘India flatter to deceive’. Knowing India’s penchant for losing a Test immediately after winning one, I had mentally prepared myself for Southampton; I still strongly believe that had Jadeja taken the catch offered by Cook on 15, the story could have well be different; however, beliefs will not impact cricket statistics and England went on to build a mammoth first innings total of 569. The Indian reply, by Indian overseas batting standards, was not bad, but in the context of England’s huge first innings score, the Indian total of 330 was dwarfed. I remember Dhoni expressing concern at a lot of batsmen getting starts, and not going on to make big scores. Since that moment, Indian batsmen appear to have taken it on themselves to correct this concern, not by making big scores, but by not getting starts at all.

India were set a target of 445 in the fourth innings, and Murali Vijay set the tone for the shambolic performance to come, with a needless run out. What made the event even more unbearable was the fact that he made no desperate attempt to regain his crease – no fervent pumping of the leg muscles, no last ditch dive; just a regulation stretch which had him a fraction of an inch short. Out of India’s remaining 9 wickets, 7 of them went to spinners – 6 to alleged part-time/now specialist spinner Moeen Ali, and 1 to certified part-time spinner Joe Root. Indian players, considered to be among the best when it comes to playing spinners, were falling like nine-pins around them. Moeen Ali is a competent bowler, but even with no major variations like the top-spinner, doosra/teesra…etc. in his armoury, the manner in which he breezed to 6 wickets in the innings is a concern. The loss was dubbed as ‘abject’ by broadcasters and other media. If that was abject, I am sure they are now scratching their heads to come up with a superior terminology to describe the events of the 4th Test.

India were determined to force me to add ‘embarrassing’ to the article title right from the onset of the 4th Test. They were reduced to 8 for 4 at the end of 5.1 overs, and visions of a sub-50 score loomed large. India limped to 152 all out, thanks to healthy contributions from Dhoni and Ashwin; during the innings, India equaled the world record for maximum number of ducks in an innings (6) and the embarrassment was visually highlighted when the broadcaster’s mini scorecard showed Gautam Gambhir’s score of 4 as the fourth highest. Extras, unfortunately not part of the mini scorecard, would have won comfortably, with an aggregate of 12.

However, if it seemed that things couldn’t get worse, the embarrassment déjà vu struck back with a vengeance in India’s second innings as well. England made 367 in their first innings and India needed 215 runs to avoid an innings defeat. The match was more or less in England’s bag by then, with their only concern being the availability of Stuart Broad after being struck by a Varun Aaron bouncer. As things turned out, it was going to be a massacre even in the absence of their first innings bowling hero. India nudged along to tea for the loss of Murali Vijay, but the final session produced an embarrassing 9 wickets, resulting in defeat by an innings and 54 runs. The match was over in less than 3 days, even after more than half the second day was washed out due to incessant rain. Once again, Moeen Ali picked up 4 wickets and was also the chief architect of Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s inexplicable run out. A deeper analysis is not required, because the final session was a mere procession of players from the dressing room and back. I saw an interesting stat that India were 66-6 in both innings of the match. In Christianity, 666 is the devil’s number – this match was a definite tryst with cricketing hell for an Indian cricket fan.

In hindsight, the Jadeja appeal could have been a tactical error

Like most Indians, I was waiting with bated breath for the verdict on Anderson, which had metamorphosed into the most important current event in the wake of Jadeja getting fined 50 percent of his match fee post the infamous July 10 incident, and was utterly shocked to see that Anderson was found ‘not guilty’ at the hearing. The shock was less from a justice point of view, because I had not yet dived deep into the reasons behind Anderson being held not guilty, but more from the sheer loss of face in the midst of intense media coverage. Many news articles sensationalized the development even further, with headlines screaming that Anderson was found not guilty; some others tried the balancing act, by adding in their headline/sub-headline that Jadeja’s appeal against the 50 percent fine imposed on him was upheld.

Based on my quick analysis of cricket/news websites, in a nutshell, there is no video evidence of the ‘incident’ between Jadeja and Anderson, with the event transpiring curiously in the only small passage of space not covered by the ICC’s Anti Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) cameras. So the situation came down to one team’s word against the other – the main witnesses for India were coach Duncan Fletcher, captain MS Dhoni and physio Evan Speechly, while on the English side, representatives were Matt Prior, Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes. After going through six hours worth of evidence (curious to see what that would be in the absence of video coverage), His Honor Gordon Lewis, Australia’s representative on the ICC’s Code of Conduct commission, pronounced both men not guilty.

The verdict comes as a huge psychological boost for Anderson and England, the former having faced the risk of being banned for the remaining two Test matches in the series with India, and perhaps a couple more, had the charge been upheld. He now heads to his home ground, Old Trafford, with tail firmly up. India, on the other head, need to dig deep down to come up with some positivity after this verdict, which, coupled with the crushing defeat at Southampton a few days back, is in short, devastating. The supposed ‘consolation’ prize of upholding the appeal against Jadeja’s fine did nothing to pacify my strong feeling of disappointment for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the fact that Jadeja was initially charged, again without any video evidence, indicates that Trial 1 believed that the Englishmen’s version of the truth was superior to the Indians’ in some way, because by the logic put forward in this trial, the earlier one should have also ended with an acquittal. Secondly, from a third-party perspective, being found guilty in a lower court, followed by a subsequent appeal resulting in acquittal of the defendant in a higher court, is in no way comparable to the situation wherein the defendant was initially found not guilty.

On that note, I couldn’t help wondering if the appeal to get Jadeja’s fine revoked was a tactical error made by the BCCI, as it gave the ICC an opportunity to balance out a difficult situation. Dhoni’s condemning of ICC’s fine on Jadeja, in a rare display of emotion, would have put immense pressure on the ICC to punish Anderson as well. Jadeja was also charged on the basis of word-of-mouth, and had the appeal not reopened his case, Lewis would have found it extremely difficult to justify a no-case in the absence of video evidence. Not being a legal person, I don’t know if the Hon. Lewis could still pull out a clause resulting in a no-guilty verdict for Anderson in the event of non-appeal against Jadeja’s fine, which would have caused India the double ignominy of a ‘not-guilty’ Anderson and a fined Jadeja. However, in what now unfolds as a high-stakes poker game, India appears to have blinked first, and irrespective of how we sugar coat it, the final verdict has been a crushing blow on the team’s morale ahead of the fourth Test.