Jonathan Bairstow, among all English batsmen, looked most like a novice. After the highs of Cardiff where he came in and smashed a 20 ball 40 and snatched the match away from India, at Hyderabad with players round his bat he looked scratchy, diffident and insecure. It was only a matter of time before the mistake was committed. Saurav Ganguly was right when he commented, This is bound to happen. In conditions which are alien, Bairstow, Bresnan and others in the English lower middle order were sure to struggle against Indias spinners, handing M S Dhoni a great opportunity to turn the tables on Cooks team.
Does the track at the Visaka stadium diminish Indias credit by a little Not at all. If thats the argument, England should also not have been labelled the best team in the world when they smashed us in their own backyard. There is little doubt that Andrew Strauss and subsequently Alastair Cooks men outplayed the Indians in all departments of the game in England and were deserving winners. However, to suggest that the English are the best in the business and will be so for the next five years on the back of one home series performance is a clear case of English over enthusiasm and overzealousness, a trait not limited to the boundaries of cricket. While there is no denying that this English side is good, being best in the world it must be stated, is about winning irrespective of conditions and winning consistently away from home for a period of time. Winning in the sub-continent in hostile conditions, for example, is pivotal to occupying the pole position in world cricket. Ability to bat in spin-friendly tracks and bowl to quality players of spin, coupled with the heat and humidity in India, is the ultimate test of a players fitness and intensity. None of Englands fast men, Finn, Bresnan or Dernbach have even come close to conquering this frontier yet.
As a result of home advantage becoming the key decider, the game, more than anything, is losing its charm. The biggest charm of cricket was its unpredictability. And now that is losing sheen with home advantage playing a huge role. It is in situations like these that we realise the value of an away win. While India will surely win the forthcoming Test series against the West Indies at home, the real challenge for Dhoni will be to stand up to Ponting and company in Australia. Even if the Indians are able to compete in alien conditions, it will be a big step forward after the decimation in England. With most of our players fit by the time the series starts in December there is a possibility that they will be far more competitive.
While that is for later, for now it is important to give England what they dislike the best. Turners. Win the toss, bat first in conditions which are good for batting and then unleash Ashwin and Jadeja on the English batsmen. It is like a throwback to the Azharuddin, Wadekar era when Kumble, the man in the eye of the conflict of interest storm, won India many a Test match. There is no need for any false bravado. In fact, to try and prepare a bouncy track will be decreed an act of foolishness rather than an act of bravado. England should be the modelall of the tracks favoured swing and bounce and Anderson and his team made merry at the expense of our batsmen. It is time we do the same in our own backyard.
Despite having said that, theres one man who can still do it for England in these conditions and thats Kevin Pietersen. He is every bit a champion as anyone else in the world and only individual brilliance from men like him can save Cook in this series. Else we will soon start saying the Midas touch has returned. But the truth is that the Midas touch is associated with home advantage!
The writer is a sports historian