Fragility exposed as ‘world’s best Test side’ goes 0-2 down

The colourful former India wicket-keeper Farokh Engineer, who is settled in England now, looked sullen as he headed towards his car at tea on Day 4 of the Trent Bridge Test. India were 68/6, and Tendulkar was the last specialist batsman at the crease, fighting to stretch the game into its final day.

But Engineer had had enough already. "I can't take it anymore. This isn't a world champion team. We have been outplayed in all departments. Batting, bowling, fielding, wicket-keeping, captaincy. Thank god we won the toss in both Tests or it would have been worse," he said.

Seventeen overs later, it was all over. India had been humiliated by 319 runs, following the 196-run thrashing at Lord's. England were 2-0 up in the series that they can now no longer lose — a lead that they need to only hold on to in order to push India off the World Number 1 pedestal in Test matches.

Indeed, Engineer wasn't the only one feeling let down by India in this series hyped as the 'Champion v Pretender' contest. Since their tour game at Taunton some 20 days back, India have looked a jaded, ill-prepared, disjointed side with most players showing no stomach or will for a fight. The listlessness and lethargy of skipper M S Dhoni during his team's long wicketless phases has been a talking point through the series.

Dhoni fell to the first delivery he faced today, trapped lbw offering no stroke to a ball that came in sharply. In the first innings, he had lasted 9 balls for his 5 runs.

Those in the dressing room say that around tea time on day 2, with Rahul Dravid at the crease and India about to overtake England's first innings score of 221 with 6 wickets in hand, the skipper had chosen to take a short nap. However, Yuvraj Singh got out, and Dhoni had to take the field. A casual forward push soon saw him edging the ball to James Anderson, becoming the first of Stuart Broad's three hat-trick victims.

That was when everything changed — the game, the series, and indeed, India's perception in the cricketing world. This was no longer the team that didn't give an inch to any opposition. And during times like these, everything comes under scrutiny, including the skipper's forty winks.

Interestingly, the four performers of the series so far for India have been Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar — none of whom was part of the World Cup winning side. The men who thrilled a billion fans on that magical Wankhede night of April 2 have seemed to lack the motivation and hunger as they have taken the field here in England.

At Lord's they still talk about Dhoni's determined 76 not out during the 2007 series, when he batted for over 20 overs with tailenders to save the Test for India. At Trent Bridge thereafter, the bowlers got over the jellybean controversy while the batsmen defied the steep bounce that England's tall quicks, Anderson and Chris Tremlett, got.

But today, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj, Abhinav Mukund and Harbhajan Singh failed to counter the rising ball. The old ghosts that had once seemed vanquished returned to haunt India.

The application needed in the longer version of the game has been missing. Sachin Tendulkar has looked in great touch, but twice in four innings he has been out playing too many shots too early on.

Former players have called the side undercooked. Returning after an injury, Zaheer Khan sat out for the second innings during the tour game. With just a few overs under his belt, he went to Lord's, where he pushed himself a bit too hard in the final stages of the first day.

Lack of bench strength and Harbhajan Singh hitting a new low resulted in the increase in the workload of Ishant and Praveen. Over the last 10 days, spread over two Tests, they have bowled over 100 overs each. This was after they had individually bowled over 100 overs during the West Indies series last month.

For a tired and ill-prepared team with a listless captain at the helm, the World No.1 tag seems at the moment to be too heavy a responsibility to shoulder.

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