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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Two bad losses in a row. Bad bole toh ... BAD. Defeats by 196 and 319 runs is massive. The better side has won, and the poorer side has much to reflect on. But you win some, you lose some. India haven't looked a No. 1 side all tour, and they've been guilty of letting England off the hook several times during the past two Tests. They've got only themselves to blame because they had chances to shut England out on all of the first three days.

You have a team on the mat at 124 for 8, and then allow them to score 221. Then you get a lead of 40 with six wickets in hand and end up with a lead of 67. And on the third day, India's generosity in the field - what was Dhoni doing with his fielders? - meant they went from chasing 275 to over 478. That is poor cricket and you aren't doing yourselves any favors by ending up in such situations. Not the cricket of a No. 1 side, and the way India are shaping up means they will have to play extremely good cricket to retain their ranking.

Of course, India with Sehwag, Gambhir and Zaheer is a much different side, and they will fight in the remainder of the series. Of that you can be sure. England have been exceptional in patches, most notably through Stuard Broad who seems to be on a different level currently. His bowling has been relentless and his batting has come along wonderfully. He's shrugged off criticism in the best manner possible and is in a really good place as an athlete right now. 

Dhoni just didn't seem to be there over the past two Tests. The one time he woke up, he ended up recalling an appeal against Ian Bell which has polarized opinion. Was Dhoni right in recalling Bell, who was a complete chump in assuming Tea had been called and walked off? It was a daft thing to do, as Bell himself admitted to. All this jazz about Dhoni's action being sporting and morally correct and "the right thing do do" is not for me. Bell was naive, but there are laws in place for a reason. You cannot just shove them aside just because one set of people are being booed or termed unsporting or because it could leave bad blood between the two sides. This is sport, and its not always fair. Men are playing it, not boys.

What business did Strauss and Flower have in knocking on the Indian dressing room? There was no anger, disrespect or nastiness in what happened on the field. No law was broken, no umpire questioned or denigrate. The laws had been adhered to, by Mukund, Dhoni and the umpires. As a friend says, if it had been Steve Waugh who opened the door, he would have told Strauss and Flower just where to go. 

Obviously the mud is flying. But its not the disaster its being made out to be. India were undercooked, missing some key players, and had some bad luck. Athletes will tell you that getting to the top isn't as hard as staying there, and for India the challenge is to improve. They have not been consistently challenged, and when they have been pushed in every department by England in successive Tests, they've fallen flat. The need, for the BCCI, is to prioritize, as Nasser Hussain pointed out. Easy to say, tough to implement. They didn't have back-up batsmen, and to rely on the same bunch of jokers who comprise a weak bench is not productive.

The challenge is to manage the talent and the calendar. Its clear that Test cricket is not the priority for the decision-makers, and that's not the way to go forward. England have caught up, so too will South Africa. What then?

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