Humiliation at Eden: England beat India by 7 wickets, lead series 2-1

HT Correspondents

Kolkata, Dec. 9 -- Once England complete the final rites at Eden Gardens on Sunday, India's score against respectable opposition in Tests - starting with the series against England in England last year - will be 1-10.

Even as Indian batsmen were struggling against English bowlers at Eden Gardens on Saturday, 15 km away at the Salt Lake Stadium, former Columbian goalie Rene Higuita showed Dhoni's boys how to middle the ball.

This will be the first time since 1999-2000 that we have lost two consecutive Tests at home.

Before the glorious period of 2000-2010 - when India won more Tests away from home than in any other decade - we were trounced overseas, but used to be heroes at home.

As a cricketing nation, we have hit one of our lowest points. It matters little if India win the fourth Test in Nagpur. We need an overhaul. We need a roadmap.

This begs the question: Will our selectors and cricket board ask the hard questions and find the right answers? Here are two samples: What is India's record in Tests since Duncan Fletcher took over as coach? How long can iconic players remain in the team purely on the basis of past achievements?

Millions of cricket-crazy Indians need to know. Otherwise, things will get even worse. And our players will continue to be in denial.

The bright side of India's humiliation on Saturday was that Test cricket would not have to stand up to a duel of popularity against local football and face another reality check.

Virender Sehwag's dismissal - castled by offie Graeme Swann - opened the floodgates. India lost six wickets between lunch and tea on the penultimate day, and it was left to the tailenders to avoid an innings defeat.

Tickets for the season's first city derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan on Sunday afternoon at the 100,000-capacity Salt Lake stadium are sold out. In the morning at Eden though, India and England will be here again to complete the formalities. India lead by 32 runs with just one wicket in hand.

The darkest side of the humiliation would be a fight to sudden death, between India's middle-order and the bowling attack to prove which is worse. Fielding will come, a very close third.

Bad bowling

The bowling lacked bite on a rank turner in Mumbai. It wasn't any better at the Eden. The wicket here was not as bad, but there was enough purchase for the bowlers if they were consistent in hitting the right spots - slightly short of good length for medium-pacers and the roughs created by the bowlers' footmarks for the spinners.

India bowlers were disappointing on both fronts. In both innings during the third Test, when England had the ball, the wicket seemed lively. It appeared lifeless when India were bowling and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha wanted everyone to buy his defence that there was nothing in it for the bowlers.

Well, on that wicket where England made 523, India in the own backyard, almost failed to get past that total batting twice. Roll back to Mumbai. Take out Cheteshwar Pujara and R Ashwin's performance with the bat in the first innings. Add the remainder to the two outings here and you have a very dismal picture.

A semblance of fight by the openers in the one-and-a-half hour of the first session on Day 4 was over the first ball post lunch. Graeme Swann managed to turn the ball from more than a foot outside the off and castled Virender Sehwag.

After a mix up with Sehwag in the first innings here, Gautam Gambhir hurried Pujara into another run out. England did not need a better pat to identify the panic and get their tails up. From 86 without loss, to 6 for 122 happened in 79 minutes, 11 shy of full-time in a football match, in three overs less than an IPL innings. That was when skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was walking back, nicking James Anderson to first slip.

The last time India lost a match at Eden was against Pakistan in 1999. The last time India lost back-to-back Tests at home was against South Africa, in 2000. It was a two-match series. Here at least India have won one and still harbour a chance of squaring the series.

If this was a series of revenge, following the 0-4 loss to England away last summer, the visitors have left India scope for introspection. The selection panel sits here on Sunday to name the squad for the final Test and two T20 matches.

They surely have a problem. Among a few of them would be our leading offspinner Ashwin. He has just nine wickets in three matches, a few of them of tail-enders. But he happens to be India's fourth highest run-getter in the series, ahead of Yuvraj, Kohli, Tendulkar and skipper Dhoni. And unbeaten on 83 with Ojha, Ashwin needs nine more runs to cross Gambhir, who on 214 is the thirdhighest scorer for India after Pujara and Sehwag. Do India have a cook who knits better than he chops?

Where are the options

After back-to-back humiliation in this series, the BCCI selection committee led by chairman Sandeep Patil will sit down on Sunday to pick the squad for the final Test in Nagpur amid growing cries for major changes in the squad.

There was a similar rage after the 10-wicket loss to England in Mumbai. But instead of picking a squad for the third and fourth Tests, the new committee named an unchanged squad for the Kolkata match.

Logically, it would mean that the selectors wanted to give some of the under-performers another chance before taking a decision. India have been outplayed in all departments again. However, the two major issues that need attention are the middle order and bowling.

The performances of Yuvraj Singh, who has played in all three Tests, and Harbhajan Singh have been criticised as has been Virat Kolhi and Ishant Sharma's. The selectors had picked four openers in the initial squad to put pressure on Sehwag and Gambhir.

Openers will stay

But now that they are among the top three run-getters in the series, Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane become redundant, even though Patil had said the latter was picked as a middleorder option.

If Yuvraj is left out, either Suresh Raina or S Badrinath could come in. But there is no real replacement for Ishant for the time being. Injured Umesh Yadav is out for at least three months. The only option could be a leg-spinner coming in for Harbhajan, who did not get a chance to bowl in Ranji Trophy on Saturday because Punjab are batting against Mumbai.

But Raja Venkat, who was in the last committee, felt the selectors do not really have much of a bench to fall back on. "They are not really spoilt for choice. Look at the Ranji Trophy. Can you really name someone with outstanding performances. This is the best you have. An option could be to pick a leg-spinner and play five bowlers," he said.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.