| Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff celebrates after dismissing Rahul Dravid in the final Test in Mumbai. (Reuters)
Mumbai, March 22: Coach Greg Chappell and the selectors have been so obsessed with building a team for the future that they’ve forgotten about the present. After what happened at the Wankhede this afternoon, the ‘today’ needs to be addressed first, not the tomorrows.
On a wicket which was challenging, but certainly not unplayable, Team India crashed to a 212-run defeat with the last seven wickets (including those of four frontline batsmen) falling for as little as 25 runs and inside 15 overs.
As a result, a severely depleted England managed to square the three-Test series 1-1. That off-spinner Shaun Udal, who would struggle to make most Ranji sides, returned the best figures (four for 14) alone says much.
The capitulation ' it wasn’t any better in Karachi, less than two months ago ' surprised even Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, the England captain. At lunch, India was 75 for three with captain Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar well settled. Seventy-five minutes later, it was all over, thanks in no small measure to the recklessness of the Mahendra Singh Dhonis.
England, of course, would like to believe that listening to Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire (during the break) pumped them up even more. The near-capacity turnout believed a former captain was missed and conveyed that spontaneously with the chant: “We want Sourav.”
Tactically, the Test was an absolute disaster. Given India only needed to maintain status quo (being 1-0 ahead), the batting ought to have been strengthened. It wasn’t. Then, defying logic, Dravid inserted England and the visitors made the most of a pre-Easter gift.
India’s batting and catching were atrocious, throughout, and the bowling ought to have been incisive on Day I.
The series began without, among others, regular England captain Michael Vaughan and vice-captain Marcus Trescothick and, so, it was widely assumed India would have it easy. Ironically, the so-called most proficient players of spin themselves got spun out, squandering the chance to regain the No. 2 spot in the ICC rankings.
The disgraceful performance invited the wrath of the spectators --- the Test finished even before all daily ticket-holders could enter the stadium --- and the boos would have travelled to distant Sydney, where Chappell shifted some years ago.
There were chants of “We want Ganguly, we want Ganguly” when Dravid and Chappell turned up for the presentation ceremony. Then, when the captain was invited for a tete-a-tete by MC Dean Jones, the Wankhede erupted with cries of “We want Sourav, we want Sourav”.
That continued for well over a minute, drowning out much of what Dravid was saying. He did deserve respect, but the support for predecessor Sourav wasn’t orchestrated. Many would never have imagined it happening, with such intensity, outside the Eden Gardens.
“I supported that (the chants and cries),” said former England captain Geoffrey Boycott. Interacting briefly with The Telegraph, he added: “Found it interesting, very interesting.'”
Incidentally, the yearning for Sourav came less than 24 hours after he again got overlooked by Kiran More and his colleagues.
Dravid, who’d taken exception to the Eden crowd’s behaviour during last November’s ODI against South Africa (“This young team has got support from every city in India, except one” is what he’d declared four months ago), wasn’t critical of the Mumbaikars.
“It doesn’t matter whether I deserved it (the boos) or not. One gets used to praise and criticism. One has to move on in life,” Dravid, playing his 100th Test, said. “With the benefit of hindsight,” he acknowledged, putting England in was a mistake.
That decision, though, must have been collective and Chappell can’t escape responsibility.
Barring the second innings here, Dravid made handsome contributions --- 40 and 71 (Nagpur), 95 and 42 not out (Mohali), 52 in innings No. 1. But with others -- Sachin and vice-captain Virender Sehwag, in particular --- failing, his own runs got buried.
Flintoff, however, emerged a huge winner: Man of the Series, Man of the Match... Clearly, he’s going to be full-time captain sooner rather than later. Not that he’s impatient: “This is Vaughanie’s team and he’ll be the captain when fit.”
An architect of last year’s Ashes triumph, Flintoff had less than two days to mentally prepare for a demanding job and didn’t allow the circumstances to overwhelm. He scored in every innings, was the “best bowler” as Dravid complimented and led with passion and imagination.
The way Flintoff handled his bowlers in hot and humid conditions at the Wankhede was brilliant.
Had Vaughan and Trescothick been around, Flintoff probably wouldn’t have played this Test and been with wife Rachel, who recently gave birth to their second child (a boy). But, then, there’s destiny.
On the last tour (2001-02), Flintoff totalled no more than 26 runs in five Test innings and was best remembered for taking his shirt off here after the last ODI. This time, before leaving for a quick look at Flintoff (Jr), he took India’s pants off.