First innings mountains and epic double acts

India won in Ahmedabad and England never seemed to have a realistic chance of even saving the game was not just expected, it was likely from the moment that Cheteshwar Pujara took root and then blossomed at the crease.

Updated: November 20, 2012 15:37 IST
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Bangalore: There aren't too many teams in world cricket who would start as favourites against a side that smoked them 4-0, a year after that event. There are fewer still who would do so after having lost a subsequent away series by a similar margin, and then seen two of their greatest batsmen embrace retirement.

All because the venue of the contest had changed. But that is the nature of playing at home or away, if you're part of the Indian cricket team.

That India won and England never seemed to have a realistic chance of even saving the game was not just expected, it was likely from the moment that Cheteshwar Pujara took root and then blossomed at the crease. And it didn't come as a surprise in spite of the events of the last 18 months, because of India's formidable home record.

History is what England may well need to look at if they want to turn things around and still compete in the series.

Since the start of the 2000s, India have played 60 Tests at home. Of those 60, only nine have ended in defeat. Those are formidable odds to overcome. When you consider that three of those nine defeats came in the first five Tests, and that the subsequent 55 have seen only six defeats and 29 victories, the scale of the task England face is thrown in sharper relief.

What England could do is study what happened the nine times India lost, including one loss inflicted by England themselves in Mumbai (2006), in Rahul Dravid's 100th Test - a match also likely to be remembered as one in which Sachin Tendulkar was booed by a section of the crowd at the Wankhede Stadium.

One of the common threads tying most of those nine matches together is the fact that the visiting team put up good totals in their first innings. The only exception to this is the first defeat of the 2000s, which came against Hansie Cronje's South Africa in a match that saw only 678 runs scored across four innings, with 36 wickets lost.

In the next match of the series, South Africa racked up 479. When Australia finally conquered their 'final frontier' in the 2004-05 series, they had first innings totals of 474 and 398 in the two Tests they won. In the only Test they won in the epic 2001 series, Australia made 349 in the first innings. Not formidable by itself, but huge compared to India's reply of 176.

England put up a commendable 400 in Mumbai in 2006, while Pakistan had powered their way to a mammoth 570 in their 2005 victory in Bangalore. In the drawn series of 2008 and 2010, South Africa had totals of 494 and 558 in the matches they won.

Putting up big first innings total, though, was just half the story. How they became substantial was the more interesting half.

Every big opposition score in the matches above was powered by twin performances. Conspicuous by its absence was the heroic solo - of the kind that Alastair Cook played in the first Test.

You think of the batsmen who have been successful in India over the past decade and a bit, and a pattern of team-work emerges.

Matthew Hayden combined with Adam Gilchrist in what both would later describe as a game-changing partnership of 197 in 2001, when no other pair hit three figures.

The trend was repeated in Australia's 2004-05 series. Michael Clarke hit 151 on debut, and Gilchrist was at it again with a quickfire century. Clarke made 91 in the third Test, in which Damien Martyn stroked 114. These weren't mammoth scores, but they worked in giving Australia good totals because people around the two main scorers also contributed.

When truly gigantic individual scores were achieved, other contributions didn't matter so much, like with Pakistan in 2005 or South Africa in 2010. For Pakistan, Younis Khan batted on and on and on for 267, while Inzamam-ul-Haq proved equally difficult to dislodge with 184.

South Africa almost matched that to the dot, with Hashim Amla's 253 not out and Jacques Kallis' 173.

Alastair Cook had the impressive Matt Prior to lend support, but virtually no one else. And that resistance came in England's second innings, by which time they were already huffing and puffing to merely catch up.

England can draw hope from how they batted in the second innings for the rest of the series, but if history is anything to go by, they'll want to focus on how that performance can be replicated in the first innings - before the match has already run too far away from them.

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