MANISH DUBEY | 17 AUGUST, 2018
When Indian Cricket’s Big Five Failed Together
This was a puzzling failure for several reasons.
A meme doing the rounds amidst India’s batting woes in England has fans nostalgic about the test match exploits of the Big Five - Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag, and Sachin Tendulkar – on English soil. Though Laxman and Sehwag did not have the same overall success in England as they had elsewhere and the 1990 Indian tourists delivered no less impressively on the batting front, it is a fair evocation. On only one of the six occasions featuring the Big Five in England did India not raise a 350-plus total.
The Big Five, of course, have inspirational value for any tour except New Zealand, the only country where their combined might could not fetch a test win. They, in fact, were on the losing side on both occasions they played in New Zealand. It was all during a tour in the December of 2002, and India were dismissed cheaply four times running. For 161 and 121 at Wellington, 99 and 154 at Hamilton. These remain four of the five lowest team scores in completed innings featuring the Big Five.
This was a puzzling failure for several reasons. The Kiwi pace attack was inexperienced - Jacob Oram was on debut, spearhead Shane Bond barely a year into his international career, Daryl Tuffey had fewer tests (10) behind him than Sehwag (12), the junior most of the Big Five - and while spinner Daniel Vettori had the experience, it surely was not an ensemble men with forty and fifty-plus test averages and 289 tests (then) between them were going to have nightmares about. Especially with talismanic all-rounder Chris Cairns out of the picture yet again with injury, and Dravid’s memorable showing in 1998-99 tour to New Zealand unforgotten.
The form book did not look worrisome either. Sure, Bond had shown early promise, Vettori had enough of a reputation not to be taken lightly, and Tuffey had rocked England with a 9/116 match haul earlier in the year, but four of the Big Five were coming off a productive ODI home series versus the West Indies. And Tendulkar, who had missed the ODIs, had recovered form after a brief slump in his last inning before the tour, 176 in the final Kolkata test versus West Indies. Also, the batting, especially Dravid and Ganguly, had clicked on the last tour outside the subcontinent, the one to England mentioned above.
And yet it all ended in disaster for Ganguly’s men. India lasted 96.5 overs at Wellington, 82.1 overs at Hamilton, lesser than minnows Bangladesh at the same venues the previous season. There were no hundreds, just two fifties (one each off the blades of Dravid and Tendulkar), and in four outings each to the crease, Dravid, Sehwag, and Tendulkar got into double figures only twice, Ganguly and Laxman just once. M/s Bond, Tuffey, and Oram inflicted much of the damage, claiming 36 of the 40 Indian wickets to fall. Vettori was not even required to bowl for the first time in his career of 42 test-old career, captain Fleming preferring the gentler pace of Scott Styris and Nathan Astle when his frontline trio looked in need of a break.
By all accounts, the conditions were more testing than usual that New Zealand summer. It was an extraordinarily wet summer, the tracks were bouncy and green, the ball moved much through the air and off the track, and the Kiwis had the advantage of the toss on both occasions. The Indian attack, especially Zaheer Khan, had its moments too but it was ultimately not batting pedigree but the bowlers’ harnessing of conditions that swung the series.
It was not the first time the best were humbled by the competent in the cricket arena. Ganguly would not play a test in New Zealand again but Dravid, Tendulkar, and Laxman did go on to redeem themselves in their next tour to the country seven years later (Sehwag not so much). The 2002 tormentors were gone and the conditions were nowhere as devilish but some lessons had clearly been learnt. Which is not what can one say for Virat Kohli’s side. For, four years ago, it was more or less the same top order that fell apart at Southampton, Manchester, and The Oval, and lost the series after a draw at Nottingham and a win at Lord’s.