Slowly, and painfully, the five-Test series against England is finally drawing to a close for India. With each passing hour out in the middle, the Indians, none of whom have ever played a series so long, have been found out.
The great transition, which last November looked so promising and imminent, now is nowhere to be seen on the horizon. After disappointing series defeats at South Africa, New Zealand and, bar the miracle of miracles, England, India seem to have gone back in time.
With a tour of Australia coming up at the end of the year, perhaps that is the direction where they want to head.
The eulogies for the tour of England, which began so promisingly and eventually turned out to be a cruel tease, are not going to be kind. The famed batting line-up, on whose waves the Indian ship was supposed to ride towards glory, has been the primary reason for its sinking.
Playing in England, with its seamer and swing-friendly pitches and conditions, was never going to be easy, but not even the most pessimistic of Indian fans would have predicted the team not being able to cross 200 four consecutive times, with the odds of a fifth very high.
As ranted about in this column throughout the last three Tests, the resolve, application and character shown by India on the snooker table of a pitch at Lord’s has gone AWOL.
Instead, we have only seen batsmen who are hell-bent on giving catching practice to a welcoming slip cordon and, even more exasperatingly, the inability to catch even the scant few chances the opposition sent their way when the roles were reversed.
However, even the darkest of clouds always have a hint of a silver lining, and that for India has been, ever so surprisingly, their bowling.
Wanting to make the best out of the green tracks and helpful conditions, before going back and breaking their backs on the highways back home, the Indian bowlers have thoroughly impressed throughout this series and exceeded expectations.
Lord’s was a golden Test in the annals of Indian fast bowling, but the Indians have overall been quite inspiring considering the low expectations from them ahead of the series.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar is turning out to be quite the find, with his relentless accuracy and ability to generate oodles of swing in either direction. He is the only bowler from the Indian camp to last all five Tests, albeit he looked tired at the Oval and was unable to maintain his high standards.
Ishant Sharma created headlines at Lord’s by bouncing England out of the game and has looked threatening in a few short bursts when the opposition least expected it. Most importantly, he has stuck to the right areas and managed to let his bowling answer his critics. The Indians can only wonder what might have been had he not missed two Tests due to injury.
Pankaj Singh may have had to wait 69 overs to get a Test wicket, but that was only down to shoddy slip-catching and rotten luck. His accuracy and consistency in the two Tests he played impressed his skipper and he was unlucky to miss out at the Oval after Ishant returned from injury.
Varun Aaron, whose tearaway pace was only read about in this part of the world, provided a generous glimpse of his tremendous potential at Manchester and the Oval. Not only was he genuinely and consistently quick, but his ability to generate lethal late swing had many English batsmen fidgeting. If India can manage and maintain his workload well, which they have a poor history of doing, they have themselves a future star.
Ravichandran Ashwin only got a game in the fourth Test, but is already making his team management wish he had played earlier. He reaffirmed his credentials as a sound and responsible lower-order batsman at Manchester and then, in unhelpful conditions, maintained a religious line and length and bowled intelligently at the Oval.
Only Mohammed Shami has been a disappointment from India’s bowling department. Stuart Binny is not even counted as he has barely bowled.
With this series now well and truly lost, all India can do is look ahead. While the first thing they may want to do fix is the gaping holes in the technique and temperament of their batsmen, with the World Cup coming up Down Under next year, it would augur well for India if they identify their best bowlers and groom them accordingly.
That Aaron has not been picked for the upcoming one-day series is an unforgivable crime, given the way he has performed. With Umesh Yadav, another genuine speedster, flying in with the ODI squad, India should highlight their top five fast bowlers before the tour of Australia and get them to play enough games before then.