Cook rubs in the salt as India suffer
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND // Among the revellers wearing fancy dress in the cacophonous Hollies Stand at Edgbaston yesterday sat a row of men dressed as Bondi Beach lifeguards.
Even if they pooled their efforts, then called in reinforcements from the overworked West Midlands police they would still have had no chance of saving India. MS Dhoni's side are sinking fast.
Austin Powers also made an appearance in this atmospheric ground's party stand. Perhaps only the International Man of Mystery could solve the riddle of why India have been so bad in this series.
To say their performances in the two-and-a-half Tests to date have been unbecoming of the side still officially ranked No 1 in the world would be a gross understatement.
They have been awful.
When the wheels come off for them, it is not like they just flop off and land at the side of the car. Instead they go rolling down the road and end up in an undergrowth full of thorn bushes, disturbing a wasps nest in the process.
At their worst yesterday, it was all going wrong.
Rahul Dravid, one of the few players still in credit for them, grassed two relatively simple slip catches.
Dhoni, the captain, left acres of space at third man, for some reason, then Ishant Sharma promptly fed boundary after boundary to that zone by bowling short and wide of the off stump.
Amit Mishra bowled eight no balls in one spell - unforgivable for a leg-spinner. Sreesanth dropped a dolly. There were overthrows.
And Praveen Kumar, who was again their best performer with the ball, could not keep his shirt tucked in.
The whole thing just looked so achingly scruffy.
In India's defence, England do seem to have this effect on teams in Test cricket at the moment, especially when Alastair Cook is on song with the bat.
Last winter, England beat Australia by an innings in three of the five Ashes Test matches - and the old enemy were perceived to be a decent side until then.
Cook is usually the greediest of run-guzzlers, as he proved in Australia, but he had missed the feast so far in this series.
As England helped themselves to two handsome wins at Lord's in London and Trent Bridge, Nottingham, the Essex opening batsman managed just three single-figure scores and a highest of 12.
This was not what England's supporters had come to expect. In his 13 innings previous to that, he had contributed seven centuries, including a double in an Ashes Test.
When at his best, as he was again here in Birmingham, Cook is unyielding and unrelenting, and grinds his opponents into submission.
India threw in the towel many times over yesterday, but still he carried on his way to a 19th Test century.
In the process, he surpassed David Gower, Michael Vaughan and teammate Kevin Pietersen in England's all-time list of centurions, and now trails only five of his compatriots. He is level with two more - Len Hutton and his captain Andrew Strauss, who missed his ton by 13 runs.
The ease with which England's batsmen operated will have alarmed the Indian coaching team.
Duncan Fletcher, the India coach who used to be in charge of England, had explained away his side's first-innings capitulation as being down to the overhead conditions assisting swing and seam movement.
In truth, it had not moved around especially prodigiously and England, by contrast were totally unflustered.
Strauss managed his best innings of the series to date. Ian Bell scored freely before receiving a pearler from Kumar, and Kevin Pietersen looked to be sizing up a big score until he played around a straight one.
It is still possible for India to keep hold of their No 1 Test ranking. If they salvage a draw from this match and then get a result at The Oval in London next week, that will be enough to keep them at the top.
Fletcher said it would not be beyond them, with players who are capable of scoring double-centuries at Test level.
However, that seems like wishful thinking at present.
India look to be mentally shot, at best. At worst, they seem as though they could not care less.
Published: August 12, 2011 04:00 AM