Let's all hope England teach India a much-needed lesson in Nagpur
11:32 GMT, 11 December 2012
India may yet square the series at Nagpur on a pitch that, it’s safe to say, won’t be produced with the fifth evening in mind. But the best thing for them would be a bit of tough love – and another loss.
I write that not as Englishman keen to witness history – although witnessing history comes right at the top of the sportswriter’s wishlist – but as a cricket lover who does not want to see the game’s superpower turn away from Test cricket.
Victory for India later this week may, in some quarters – BCCI HQ, mainly – be regarded as vindication of the status quo.
Hubris: The two most powerful men in world cricket – MS Dhoni (left) and BCCI president N Srinivasan (right)
But should they lose (or draw), the excuses will have run dry. If Indian cricket really is interested in more than money, it will finally have to address a malaise which, since the start of the tour of England in 2011, has brought them 10 defeats in 16 Tests, and five wins – all at home, and four of them against West Indies and New Zealand.
This will doubtless enrage those Indian fans who may have noticed that England, until Mumbai and Kolkata, had suffered a pretty disastrous year of their own. But the last two Tests have revealed a resolve that was entirely lacking when India lost 4-0 in both England and Australia. Against all the odds, England have dusted themselves off and had another go.
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The nature of India’s malaise is a basic one: they could just about swallow their overseas capitulations because they expected to return the favour once they hosted non-Asian guests. And at Ahmedabad, both sides followed the script to the letter.
Then hubris struck. So keen were N Srinivasan and MS Dhoni to demonstrate the inevitable triumph of home conditions – and, by logical extension, to mitigate the whitewashes in England and Australia – that they overplayed their hand: Alastair Cook’s team would be humiliated on turning pitches.
Amid the clamour for revenge, the fact that England, once they had sorted out their selection issues, possessed the better spinners seemed to be forgotten.
While the two most powerful men in the world game have been getting worked up about the Wankhede and Eden Gardens pitches – it seems they reckoned without a single-minded 83-year-old – England got on with the task of addressing their problems against spin.
Captain marvel: Alastair Cook is just one win away from leading England to an historic triumph
From an English perspective, this year will be remembered for the meltdown in the UAE, the Kevin Pietersen affair, the resignation of Andrew Strauss – and, if they avoid defeat in Nagpur, a stunning turnaround which says plenty for their refusal to take the easy way out and blame alien conditions.
It’s unclear whether India are willing to make the same concession. In a recent interview with Sambit Bal of ESPN Cricinfo that should concern anyone who cares about the future of the global game, Srinivasan concluded an answer about India’s overseas record thus: ‘I don't think we should run down our players by saying we did not do well abroad. Other teams don't do well when they come to India.’
More from Lawrence Booth…
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The Top Spin: Why India are clinging to faith in England's ineptitude against spin
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He was speaking before the series turned on its axis in Mumbai, but the message was clear – and it is being delivered from the very top of the Indian game: so long as India are prospering at home, both on and off the field, little else matters.
The fragility of the argument has been exposed. But what will India do about it The impression Srinivasan gave to Cricinfo was that, as long as the IPL continued to rake in the cash, the rest would take care of itself.
Pushed on the question of the impact the IPL was having on other countries’ schedules, he replied: ‘It's a free world. People and players make their choices and we can't compel a person.’ True. But you can coerce them with a fistful of dollars.
Even in the aftermath of their defeats in the second and third Tests, India have been in denial. Dhoni used his post-Mumbai press conference to insist on another turner in Eden Gardens (hadn’t he seen what Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann had just done to his batsmen); and, on Sunday, he suggested his bowlers had actually done OK.
Really, MS It’s true that Pragyan Ojha has not let him down, but Ravichandran Ashwin and Zaheer Khan have fallen well short: their combined 15 wickets have cost 52 apiece. The loss of Umesh Yadav after Ahmedabad has turned out to be more serious for India than either side could have imagined.
An Indian win in Nagpur will allow them to paper over the cracks. Defeat, and they may just be forced to look beyond their own cocoon. And for that, the rest of the world would be extremely grateful.
THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS
Cheeky: Legendary England opener Geoffrey Boycott had a dig at the state of the roads in Kolkata
Boycott’s headline act
Improbably, perhaps, Geoff Boycott’s brand of straight-talking Yorkshireness has always played well in India, and he made the front page in Kolkata last week when he felt moved to comment on the quality of the city’s roads. Invited to open a set of concrete cricket pitches at a local school, Boycott was asked what he would do if, in some wacky parallel universe, he was ever elected to office in the capital city of West Bengal.
‘You’ve got to fix your roads,’ offered Boycs. ‘It takes forever to reach anywhere.’ The look on the local politicians’ faces was said to have been worth the admission fee alone, and transport minister Madan Mitra later claimed: ‘Boycott did not mean that the roads were bad [Yes, he did]. He tried to say that the journey was too long [No he didn’t].’
Perhaps with the A647 from Bradford to Leeds in mind, Mitra added: ‘In his country, it may take him a few minutes to travel from one place to another but the roads are not like that in this country.’ Which was a nice try.
Compton’s heartfelt tribute
On the second evening at Kolkata, Nick Compton gave a long and engaging answer to a question about batting with Alastair Cook. For a moment, it stripped away some of the cynicism that can surround modern sport. In essence, England’s new opener conveyed the awe he felt when he looked up at the Eden Gardens scoreboard and saw the giant homage to Cook’s 7,000 Test runs – reached at a younger age than anyone, including Sachin Tendulkar.
Forgive me if I come across misty-eyed but, in a part of the world where the size of your IPL deal is now up there in terms of importance with the size of your Test average, it was heartening to hear a newcomer to the international game speak with such ingenuousness about a colleague – and, to extrapolate, about his own hopes and dreams.
Best seat in the house: Nick Compton has watched opening partner Cook pile on the runs
Did I say ‘ugly’
There were touching scenes ahead of the Kolkata Test, when MS Dhoni was seen embracing his bte noire Prabir Mukherjee, the Eden Gardens curator who has stubbornly refused to do what he’s told by the BCCI.
According to Indian newspaper reports, Mukherjee said Dhoni told him: ‘Have I ever disrespected you You are the boss here.’ This was all very well, except that a year earlier Dhoni had branded Eden Gardens an ‘ugly wicket’ after a one-day international against England.
Beggars can’t be choosers
New Zealand have had a miserable Test year since blowing away Zimbabwe at Napier in January. They lost at home to South Africa, when rain limited the damage to 1-0. They lost 2-0 in the West Indies, then 2-0 in India. Sri Lanka then beat them by 10 wickets at Galle. It may be that Ross Taylor, the captain they have just sacked, does indeed lack the leadership qualities of Brendon McCullum, as some close to the story have claimed.
But wasn’t it a strange piece of timing to kick Taylor out after he made 142 and 74 to help New Zealand square the series in Colombo If any team needs to cling on to their world-class performers, it is New Zealand. But Taylor will now miss the tour of South Africa while he wonders whether it’s all worth the hassle.
Thanks for nothing! New Zealand ditched Ross Taylor as captain despite a drawn series in Sri Lanka
A quick plea: next time Shane Warne gives a straight answer to a straight question about a hypothetical return to Test cricket, can we all ignore it Thank you.