India inaugurated their two-and-a-half-month tour of England with a rain-curtailed draw in a three-day match against Leicestershire, ahead of their five-Test series against England beginning on July 9.
The Indians were allowed to use all of their 18 squad members for the match, of course with just 11 men batting and fielding. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni did just that as he provided valuable match practice to an inexperienced squad, of which only three, including himself, have played Test cricket in England before.
After winning the toss and electing to bat first on a track that didn't seem to offer much for the bowlers, the Indians would've been pleased with Day 1 of the match, in which their batsmen piled on 333 for four declared.
Shikhar Dhawan, Gautam Gambhir and Cheteshwar Pujara all got half-centuries before Dhawan retired hurt with a blow to his hand, while the other two retired out. The minor injury to the Indian opener would have been the tourists' only concern following the first day's play.
However, the Indians would do well to not read too much into their batsmen's prowess against a side that languishes at the bottom of Division Two of the County Championship and against pace bowlers who weren't part of Leicestershire's first team.
The challenges put forward by James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Jordan on more helpful surfaces are bound to provide a sterner test for the visitors, whose batting is clearly their strength.
While the Indians would have good memories from a successful ICC Champions Trophy in England last summer, none of their top six batsmen expected to feature at Trent Bridge have played Test cricket in England and can expect to attract all the spotlight.
However, facing Messrs Anderson and Broad would be the least of India's concerns after how the next two days of the game panned out. The second day was a complete washout and a total waste of 90 overs of playing time for the visitors. It would only go further south on Day 3.
It was no secret that India's bowling would be their banana skin on this tour as it has been for a while. The selectors tried their best to cover up the chinks by loading as many as seven medium-pace and fast bowlers in the touring party, along with two spin-bowling all-rounders.
Dhoni gave a run to all nine bowlers on the third and final day, but to no avail as Leicestershire responded with 349 for five before play was called off.
The hosts were in no mood to retire their batsmen after getting to their half-centuries, as opener Angus Robson emulated his older brother Sam in getting a century against a Test side. Leicestershire No. 3 Greg Smith also scored a run-a-ball ton as the duo toyed with the Indian bowling attack.
So listless were the Indians in the field that their most experienced bowler, Ishant Sharma, who has played 55 Tests, was the subject of ridicule from a bunch of Indian fans at Grace Road.
Sharma went for 64 in the nine overs that he bowled, whose only saving grace were the two wickets he picked up in three balls in his final over. Before that, he struggled with his line and length and delivered as many as seven no-balls. ESPNcricinfo's Nagraj Gollapudi reported:
As he [Sharma] retreated to long leg Indian fans were not afraid to offer some advice. "Put some effort. Bend down," one fan shouted. As he lined up to deliver another over, Ishant would not have missed the annoying scream coming from the crowd: "How many fours are you going to give this over?"
The rest of the Indian bowlers have the excuse of hiding behind the curtain of inexperience, but that isn't going to help them come July 9. In overcast conditions, one would expect the bowlers to hold the advantage, but unfortunately for the tourists that wasn't to be.
None of the Indian bowlers apart from Sharma had played with a red ball in England and the inexperience shined bright as they constantly erred in finding the right line, length and movement to make the batsmen play.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, whose primary strength is swing, struggled to find the right length throughout his solitary spell of seven overs which went for 46 runs including ten fours, all of which came at the hands of an aggressive Robson. Later Robson said that he took advantage of the fuller lengths Bhuvneshwar bowled while attempting to swing the ball.
Pankaj [Singh], along with Mohammad Shami and later Varun Aaron, were the pick of the Indian bowlers as the trio bowled at a good pace and created some doubts for the batsmen.
The hapless Indian bowling got some words of encouragement from their tormentor, Robson, in the post-match press conference, as reported by The Guardian:
I think they [the Indian bowlers] got a bit more tired as they’ve gone on. It is just a warm-up game for them, so they’re still feeling their way into conditions and will probably be better for the run—and I’m sure they’ll keep improving.
The Indians have one more tour game against Derbyshire starting Tuesday to rectify their mistakes. The tourists have since appointed a former batsman of legendary status, Rahul Dravid, as their mentor for the tour, as reported by ESPNcricinfo.
Dravid was India's only silver lining in a disastrous tour of England three years ago, but even his three centuries could not prevent a 4-0 whitewash at the hands of Andrew Strauss's men. The Indians will look to profit from Dravid's presence and tactical acumen, but from the Leicestershire game it is clear that what the tourists require more dearly is a bowling coach with some experience of playing in England.
India have probably arrived at the best possible time to avenge their back-to-back Test series defeats at the hands of England. Alastair Cook's men are coming into the series on the back of their first-ever home series defeat against Sri Lanka, which followed a 5-0 humiliation in the Ashes Down Under. Like the Indians, England are also a side in transition.
However, before India begin to garner dreams of revenge or the likes, they should stick to getting their basics right, such as bowling in the right areas and making use of the conditions. They could learn from the Sri Lankans, whose bowling line-up wasn't the greatest to tour the country, but were tactically prepared and made the best of what was at their disposal.
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