Even after achieving the No.1 ranking, India have endured a few beatings. South Africa handed out two in 2010, first in Nagpur and then at Centurion. But you have to go back a very long time, to the disastrous Australia tour of 1999-2000, for the last time they were so comprehensively outclassed in consecutive Tests.
That Aussie misadventure, featuring defeats by 285 runs, 180 runs and an innings-and-141, marked the lowest point in Indian cricket’s modern-day history. When they returned home, they would lose twice to South Africa, before events on the field were overtaken by Hansie Cronje’s conversations off it.
The comparisons end there though. Sachin Tendulkar aside, no one in that XI had yet made any consistent claims to greatness. The likes of MSK Prasad and Debang Gandhi quickly vanished without trace. The team that lost at Lord’s and Trent Bridge was very different. With Zaheer Khan missing, the bowling may not have been as good as the Karnataka combination of Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad and Anil Kumble, but Abhinav Mukund aside, each of these batsmen had at least half a decade of international experience.
There were mitigating circumstances, like the injuries to Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer. But excuses can only stretch so far. They can’t cover a 500-run gulf over two Tests. Over the course of the match, Indian media and commentators launched into robust defences of VVS Laxman [needed, after mischievous suggestions of Vaseline where it shouldn’t be] and the BCCI-IPL. That energy would be better expended on investigating why India’s itinerary has no structure and is instead constructed like a particularly decrepit shantytown.
England already know where and when they’ll be playing Tests next summer. Indian fans have no clue when the next impromptu tour of Sri Lanka or hastily arranged tri-series will be sprung on them. The board has made an effort to fit more Test matches into the calendar, but with a lack of order and method that would appall Hercule Poirot.
England reaped their Ashes rewards last winter partly because of impeccable preparation. India approached this marquee series with no coherent strategy. Some got knackered playing the IPL. Some went and played three Tests in the West Indies. Few arrived in England looking like they were ready for the challenge.
Muhammad Ali, aka The Greatest, once said: “I run on the road, long before I dance under the lights.” India’s players either ran too much or too little, and the only dancing on view in Nottingham was the shabby moves against Tim Bresnan’s searching bouncers.
Even Ali lost sometimes. But what should hurt India is that they didn’t give themselves a good shot at winning.
Dileep Premachandran is an Indian journalist who’s writing a regular blog for The Cricketer throughout the Test series. Follow him on Twitter at @SpiceBoxofEarth