If it were possible, at least in some other universe or more likely some other time in the future, the Indian team would always insist on playing the second Test or the third one first. And get its way too.
But then, it’s already too late in this series: the Lord’s Test has been squandered and the side is dangerously close to losing its short but pre-eminent position on the ladder. Just one look at its body language here at Trent Bridge was enough to relay its resignation. The players were clearly more tired than demoralised by the 196-run defeat two days back; worse, there was no overt sign of hurt or anger.
Most of them were relaxed, laughing a little too loudly perhaps; it merely transmitted a shallow sense of confidence. Fatigue does that to the best: it numbs your brain more than the body.
At the moment, though, the Indian team has to worry about something else: it is too fragile for a world number one side. Somehow, it doesn’t have the aura of an all-conquering team, the glow of a champion.
In one-dayers, it at least has a clutch of young players who strut confidently at the crease: Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, to name two, bat like poker-driven millionaires in that format: cool and confident. In Tests, India have to turn to their experience, again and again, for deliverance.
At their full-strength, no doubt, they are formidable: Sehwag and Gambhir at the start, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman in the middle and Dhoni to back them up with a handful of worthy contenders for the number six slot. Zaheer and Ishant make a deadly pair along with Harbhajan (when in the mood).
But pull even one cog out of the wheel and the team almost stutters to a stop. India looked vulnerable even before arriving here once it became clear that Sehwag was ridden by injury; the moment Zaheer slipped out of the equation you knew that the game was all but lost. It didn’t help that Tendulkar was indisposed at a crucial time and Gambhir incapacitated by a hefty blow; both forced a massive reshuffle in the batting order.
The big question though lies elsewhere: where is the backup? Abhinav Mukund showed glimpses of fluency and fortitude; but even he accepts that Sehwag’s boots are way too large to fill. That’s fair. Praveen Kumar and Ishant did an admirable job too; but without Zaheer, India are not the same force. Do they pose the same threat? Are they worthy number one, then?
Everything, no doubt, fell into place over the last two-three years: a perfect batting lineup augmented by a well-rounded bowling attack and topped by an amazing captain. But now all that is almost ready to fall apart. Or will history repeat itself?
Can India still turn it around?
It is not impossible even if the side is depleted; after all, the first Test is behind them now. Maybe, the future is already here.