England in India 2012-13 December 13, 2012

Willy Shakespeare's famous words, and the RP malaise

One bowler defines everything that's wrong with Indian cricket
27

India begin the Nagpur Test facing the possibility of a third consecutive home defeat ‒ an indignity they have not encountered since England won in Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai at the start of the 1976-77 series, and a prospect as ugly as a mistimed Graeme Smith cover drive.

They have already lost back-to-back home Tests for the first time since South Africa swept a two-Test series in 1999-2000. The Indian selectors, who had reacted to the recent 4-0 drubbings in England and Australia by springing into action like a coiled doughnut, finally wielded something at least slightly resembling an axe, and cut Zaheer and Yuvraj from the team, plus Harbhajan from the squad.

They could have justifiably chopped at least a couple more batsmen, one wicketkeeper and/or one captain, two additional bowlers, and eight or nine fielders from the line-up that failed so dismally in all departments at Eden Gardens, although this would probably have constituted surgery too radical even for the ailing patient which showed so few signs of life in last week's Test. In the immortal words of the legendary former world-No. 1-ranked playwright and allrounder W Shakespeare (Warwickshire & England), "Breaking up is never easy, I know, but I have to go" (authorship disputed; possible missing scene from the smash-hit 1590s rom-trag Romeo & Juliet; manuscript unearthed in a recording studio in Stockholm, 1976). And breaking up a team that reached the pinnacle in both long- and short-form cricket, and which still contains some of the greatest and most influential players in Indian cricket history, is even less easy.

The Indian media and public have not exactly been salivating at the legion of replacements tearing it up in the Ranji Trophy. There seems to be a particularly gloomy outlook on the bowling front. During my now-concluded two-Test trip to India, my queries about which new or recycled bowlers might successfully, or even adequately, replace the incumbents mostly met with a blank 1000-yard stare, a look of regret, wistfulness and occasional horrific flashbacks to RP Singh wobbling in to bowl at The Oval last year, seemingly selected as a one-man metaphor for the malaise in Indian cricket.

India have now lost ten of their last 11 Tests against teams in the top six of the ICC rankings. England themselves had lost seven of their nine games this year against top-six sides before their Mumbai victory, so a turn in fortunes is not impossible. It would, however, be unexpected, particularly given how India's bowlers sliced through England's top order at Eden Gardens like a plastic picnic knife through granite-encased deep-frozen butter, and the excellence of all four prongs of the England attack which bowled with markedly superior pace, swing, hostility, spin, skill and consistency than their opponents. Advantages which fielding captains generally appreciate.

Perhaps Dhoni and his team have one last hurrah left in them. Perhaps they have the first hurrah of a new era in them. The two could be one and the same. I suspect England will have too many weapons with bat and, especially, ball, and will wrap up an impressive series win that will compensate a little for having flunked their two sternest examinations of the year, and will promise much for 2013.

I was struck during my visit to India by its continuing love for Test cricket, the youth of the crowd, and their generosity and enthusiasm even as their team were giving them little to cheer. Crowds have declined as television has increased, but that is not a specifically Indian problem. Whether that affection and interest for cricket's greatest and most fascinating form endures remains uncertain.

Indian cricket is a battleground, the epicentre of the fight over cricket's future between competing and often conflicting interests that is already and inevitably affecting players' priorities and techniques. It does not necessarily affect their desire to succeed in the five-day game. Virat Kohli, the cricketer who leads and exemplifies the new generation of Indian cricketers, appears both passionately committed to it, and aware that his status as a cricketer will in large part be defined by his performances in Tests. Five times in this series, he has left the field in an obvious fug of self-recrimination, serially let down by flawed, impatient decision-making and execution. And, in the second innings in Mumbai, by planking a full-toss to mid-off with all the finesse and competence of a DIY enthusiast nailing a smart new shelf to his forehead, instead of the wall.

But his desire to succeed does not alter the facts that the varying imperatives of his annual schedule may hinder his efforts to do so, and that, financially, he does not need to conquer the five-day game in the way that Dravid's generation did. The path of his career will be fascinating to follow.

Strong leaders and characters are needed in Nagpur and beyond, on and off the pitch. Dhoni has been both for India for most of his tenure as captain. He has led India in 42 Tests - more than twice the next highest total of games skippered by a wicketkeeper ‒ and in a total of 206 international matches altogether over five years, more than three times as many as second-placed Sangakkara (67), in which he has averaged 47 with the bat. It is easy to understand why he sometimes appears jaded. Is there anything left in the well?

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • karthik on December 16, 2012, 14:25 GMT

    funny:)

  • Rob Long on December 16, 2012, 1:56 GMT

    May I suggest J.R.R.Tolkien as captain of the England literary 11.He has the requisite number of initials and was born in South Africa to boot!

  • Firoze M Shaikh on December 15, 2012, 2:54 GMT

    Failur of Sachin Tendulker and other batsmen are reason to loose matches. Why selectors not taking drastic action to remove Sachin & introduce talented player, replaced player will also score same runs or more then Sachin.Are selectors afraid of removing him ?

  • Madhukar on December 14, 2012, 18:10 GMT

    All right!!!! So they say that there's no solution!!! Dhoni is having his leanest patch, Gambhir and Sehwag are nowhere close to being replacements and Kohli is too young and inexperienced for test captaincy... I just have an idea which is not as ridiculous as it may sound... How about recalling VVS Laxman and handing him the test captaincy for a year with a completely new team without SRT Sehwag Gambhir until the successor is ready....He is a complete natural as captain.....It would be the same as Ani Kumble mentoring the Indian side before MS Dhoni was ready to take over!! Its an idea which might stabilise Indian cricket in the near future

  • Sudhakar Mani on December 14, 2012, 17:44 GMT

    My instinct tells me.. some how this match is going to be dramatic from 3rd Day, will show the strength of Indian Team, and India will come back strong and draw the series.. who knows Sachin will get a 100 in the second innings ..:-)

  • ashraf on December 14, 2012, 17:16 GMT

    Zaltzman

    yoo the man!!

    ""prospect as ugly as mistimed Grame smith coverdrive""

    hahahah it is so so funny

  • nogginthenog on December 14, 2012, 14:57 GMT

    Samuel Beckett for the Literary XI. Nobel Prize winner and a first class average!

  • Gopal H. Singhal on December 14, 2012, 13:13 GMT

    It is good to give positive suggestions rather knocking down the entire structure. I believe that Dhoni is an excllent capttain if he unburdens himself. The first thing that he has to let go is wicketkeeping. It has come in his way of performing well with the bat. He is perhaps too tired doing 3 chores at the same time. He should consider having a good wicket keeper who is a good batsman too.We all know that very soon there will another place for a Batsman.One of the wicketkeeper that fits the bill is Dinsh Karthik. I see Dhoni going up in batting order today, not many people can bat well in changed positions. If he does well and his past confidence comes back, it will be very morale uplifting. There are certainly many good fast bowlers. It is difficult to understand why two fast bowers are not included in every test! You can not expect them to do well without experience and knowing their mistakes which they can improve upon. Best of luck.

  • ahmed on December 14, 2012, 12:38 GMT

    Brilliant humor.But, I am afraid still can not beat MSD&Cos excuses.

  • Amjad Omer,pharma link on December 14, 2012, 4:47 GMT

    One more IPL colleague in Indian Team!! well done Dhoni ,It proves again you are the chief selector..And he bowls more overs than specialist bowlers..hahaha ..Very funny .. Why dont they select Amit Mishra??? Simple,Indian team IS DHONI AND FREINDS..

  • karthik on December 16, 2012, 14:25 GMT

    funny:)

  • Rob Long on December 16, 2012, 1:56 GMT

    May I suggest J.R.R.Tolkien as captain of the England literary 11.He has the requisite number of initials and was born in South Africa to boot!

  • Firoze M Shaikh on December 15, 2012, 2:54 GMT

    Failur of Sachin Tendulker and other batsmen are reason to loose matches. Why selectors not taking drastic action to remove Sachin & introduce talented player, replaced player will also score same runs or more then Sachin.Are selectors afraid of removing him ?

  • Madhukar on December 14, 2012, 18:10 GMT

    All right!!!! So they say that there's no solution!!! Dhoni is having his leanest patch, Gambhir and Sehwag are nowhere close to being replacements and Kohli is too young and inexperienced for test captaincy... I just have an idea which is not as ridiculous as it may sound... How about recalling VVS Laxman and handing him the test captaincy for a year with a completely new team without SRT Sehwag Gambhir until the successor is ready....He is a complete natural as captain.....It would be the same as Ani Kumble mentoring the Indian side before MS Dhoni was ready to take over!! Its an idea which might stabilise Indian cricket in the near future

  • Sudhakar Mani on December 14, 2012, 17:44 GMT

    My instinct tells me.. some how this match is going to be dramatic from 3rd Day, will show the strength of Indian Team, and India will come back strong and draw the series.. who knows Sachin will get a 100 in the second innings ..:-)

  • ashraf on December 14, 2012, 17:16 GMT

    Zaltzman

    yoo the man!!

    ""prospect as ugly as mistimed Grame smith coverdrive""

    hahahah it is so so funny

  • nogginthenog on December 14, 2012, 14:57 GMT

    Samuel Beckett for the Literary XI. Nobel Prize winner and a first class average!

  • Gopal H. Singhal on December 14, 2012, 13:13 GMT

    It is good to give positive suggestions rather knocking down the entire structure. I believe that Dhoni is an excllent capttain if he unburdens himself. The first thing that he has to let go is wicketkeeping. It has come in his way of performing well with the bat. He is perhaps too tired doing 3 chores at the same time. He should consider having a good wicket keeper who is a good batsman too.We all know that very soon there will another place for a Batsman.One of the wicketkeeper that fits the bill is Dinsh Karthik. I see Dhoni going up in batting order today, not many people can bat well in changed positions. If he does well and his past confidence comes back, it will be very morale uplifting. There are certainly many good fast bowlers. It is difficult to understand why two fast bowers are not included in every test! You can not expect them to do well without experience and knowing their mistakes which they can improve upon. Best of luck.

  • ahmed on December 14, 2012, 12:38 GMT

    Brilliant humor.But, I am afraid still can not beat MSD&Cos excuses.

  • Amjad Omer,pharma link on December 14, 2012, 4:47 GMT

    One more IPL colleague in Indian Team!! well done Dhoni ,It proves again you are the chief selector..And he bowls more overs than specialist bowlers..hahaha ..Very funny .. Why dont they select Amit Mishra??? Simple,Indian team IS DHONI AND FREINDS..

  • Nick Pearson on December 14, 2012, 1:42 GMT

    India may win the 4th test but having watched both recent series v England, they look a very poor team indeed on the whole; a win in this test won't change that fact.

  • Rahul D on December 13, 2012, 23:12 GMT

    Hilarious!

    "India’s bowlers sliced through England’s top order at Eden Gardens like a plastic picnic knife through granite-encased deep-frozen butter"

  • SAM on December 13, 2012, 21:43 GMT

    ".....a prospect as ugly as a mistimed Graeme Smith cover drive." Too good!

  • Ant on December 13, 2012, 21:09 GMT

    Mr Zaltz don't EVER stop writing. Love it. You sir, make my day.

  • Phil on December 13, 2012, 20:50 GMT

    Dear Andy,

    One of your comedian-par-excellence-and-lover-of-minutia peers, Greg Proops, recently concocted a list of US presidents that would make an all-star baseball team.

    Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to name an all-star cricketing XI of literary greats from the UK.

    Cheers Phil

  • Mark on December 13, 2012, 19:37 GMT

    Pretty sure Tim 'Timbo' Bresnan is gonna wobble in tomorrow...

  • Sunil Joseph on December 13, 2012, 19:14 GMT

    I think BCCI should continue with Dhoni as a captain. Yes they need some changes in the team. It is not necessary that all the ODI players should play Test cricket also. It is totally unnecessary. One day cricket needs same players with flair but test cricket needs players with maturity. I think the batting style of Rohit Sharma is more suited to Test Cricket. India are spoiling this huge talent by playing him all the T20 cricket. Moreover, Chawla should be a regular in the test team. In my opinion Rohit can replace Sachin at No. 4. And Chawla is very good when he gives air to the ball. Jadeja is also very good, but Ojha is much better than him. Dhoni is gambling in the 4th test by playing Jadeja at No.6. He does not have the skills to match Laxman. So start with Rohit Sharma at 6 and then send him up at 4 after Sachin's retirement. Luckily Jadeja got some wickets but will he be able to play Anderson and Co. at 6. There is a big question mark on it.

  • Rishabh on December 13, 2012, 18:36 GMT

    Brilliant as always, Andy. The Indian team's best days as a test team are over and absolutely no bowlers anywhere in this huge country (unbelievable, really!). Will not be surprised if they lose to Bangladesh next.

  • Vineet Saxena on December 13, 2012, 18:14 GMT

    I remember seeing the Oval test where a horribly out of shape RP Singh threw down military medium deliveries to England openers. It was like a practise session for the England openers. I bet Boycott's grandma could have done a better job at bowling with a new ball.

    It was embarrasing to see RP running in that day at Oval.

  • Khan on December 13, 2012, 17:47 GMT

    What a thoughtful analysis. This might be read by Indian Cricketers before walk down into the field..Thanks Andy, looking forward some more from you..

  • Khan on December 13, 2012, 17:43 GMT

    What a good analysis on Indian Cricket now..Looking forward some more from you....

  • Rob Long on December 13, 2012, 14:05 GMT

    I hear F.Nightingale,your historical hotty,was a wicked proponent of the reverse sweep!

  • Julian Dawson on December 13, 2012, 13:00 GMT

    Love the idea of an international literary XI.

  • OAK on December 13, 2012, 11:41 GMT

    I'm a fan - but I have a humble request - Don't drag ABBA into the overall rubbish and hype that is Indian cricket. Knowing me, knowing you, it's the best I can do.

  • Ian Laidlaw on December 13, 2012, 6:42 GMT

    Was W Shakespeare really a pre-Wisden world number one cricketer? Was he some sort of spinner?

    I wonder what previously hidden cricketing prowess other famous historical figures possessed.

    Thank you, Andy, for your cheerful and brave analysis of cricket issues - very warming to read when it is below zero in the real world here in Yorkshire.

  • Karthik on December 13, 2012, 6:02 GMT

    When someone like Suresh Raina thinks he is a "natural Test opener" it is a sign there is something wrong with Indian Test order. Players are increasingly preferring shorter forms of the game over the Pinnacle.

  • Rahul J on December 13, 2012, 4:16 GMT

    RP Singh wobbling in to bowl at The Oval last year, seemingly selected as a one-man metaphor for the malaise in Indian cricket. hahahaha, your ARE funny!!! lets see whats left in the well...

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  • Rahul J on December 13, 2012, 4:16 GMT

    RP Singh wobbling in to bowl at The Oval last year, seemingly selected as a one-man metaphor for the malaise in Indian cricket. hahahaha, your ARE funny!!! lets see whats left in the well...

  • Karthik on December 13, 2012, 6:02 GMT

    When someone like Suresh Raina thinks he is a "natural Test opener" it is a sign there is something wrong with Indian Test order. Players are increasingly preferring shorter forms of the game over the Pinnacle.

  • Ian Laidlaw on December 13, 2012, 6:42 GMT

    Was W Shakespeare really a pre-Wisden world number one cricketer? Was he some sort of spinner?

    I wonder what previously hidden cricketing prowess other famous historical figures possessed.

    Thank you, Andy, for your cheerful and brave analysis of cricket issues - very warming to read when it is below zero in the real world here in Yorkshire.

  • OAK on December 13, 2012, 11:41 GMT

    I'm a fan - but I have a humble request - Don't drag ABBA into the overall rubbish and hype that is Indian cricket. Knowing me, knowing you, it's the best I can do.

  • Julian Dawson on December 13, 2012, 13:00 GMT

    Love the idea of an international literary XI.

  • Rob Long on December 13, 2012, 14:05 GMT

    I hear F.Nightingale,your historical hotty,was a wicked proponent of the reverse sweep!

  • Khan on December 13, 2012, 17:43 GMT

    What a good analysis on Indian Cricket now..Looking forward some more from you....

  • Khan on December 13, 2012, 17:47 GMT

    What a thoughtful analysis. This might be read by Indian Cricketers before walk down into the field..Thanks Andy, looking forward some more from you..

  • Vineet Saxena on December 13, 2012, 18:14 GMT

    I remember seeing the Oval test where a horribly out of shape RP Singh threw down military medium deliveries to England openers. It was like a practise session for the England openers. I bet Boycott's grandma could have done a better job at bowling with a new ball.

    It was embarrasing to see RP running in that day at Oval.

  • Rishabh on December 13, 2012, 18:36 GMT

    Brilliant as always, Andy. The Indian team's best days as a test team are over and absolutely no bowlers anywhere in this huge country (unbelievable, really!). Will not be surprised if they lose to Bangladesh next.