August 20, 2014

India don't need to succeed in Tests

What are India likely to do to rectify their batting horrors? Frown, and let it pass

It's the bat's fault, not mine © AFP

I have been living a strange, almost cricketless existence at the Edinburgh Festival. Perhaps not quite as cricketless as the Indian batting line-up, but disturbingly cricketless nonetheless. As a result, I have seen very little of the supposed Test matches, in which England have emerged from their prolonged funk, and India have achieved the remarkable feat of not only playing even worse than they did in 2011, but also, in the end, doing so by an impressively comfortable margin.

After the riveting, undulating classic at Lord's, the final three Tests were horrifically one-sided, with England exerting total domination, based on the first-session brilliance of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, in the face of opposition resistance as sturdy and steadfast as a jam sandwich trying to stop an elephant stampede.

It has all been eerily reminiscent of the famous 19th-century boxing match, in which Erwin "Fists Of Destiny" Wopplethwaite took on Punchin' Percy Pendelbury. Pendelbury knocked Wopplethwaite down in the second round, and looked well set to finish off his dazed, staggering opponent. Instead, Wopplethwaite got to his feet, dusted himself down, and started landing jab after jab on Pendelbury's notoriously suspect chin, before knocking him out with an impressive flurry of technically proficient upper cuts. Whilst Pendelbury repeatedly clobbered himself on the head with a heavy-based cast-iron frying pan, and shot himself in both feet with a crossbow.

It may prove to be a learning experience for India's batsmen. However, not all disastrous failures produce wisdom and improvement. As the old saying goes, "Having your leg bitten off by a crocodile does not necessarily make you better at swimming across crocodile-infested rivers, nor more confident whilst attempting to do so".

Faced with high-class swing bowling in helpful conditions, India responded with some of the most miserable batting ever seen on the international stage. Their techniques and confidences were successively demolished, as England's had been in Australia. India clearly have a talented generation of batsmen. I am sure they want to succeed in Test cricket. But they do not need to succeed in Test cricket, as previous generations did, in order to make a good living from the game. It may prove to be a crucial difference.

Teams accused of spinelessness in a cataclysmic defeat may well be manifesting an overwhelming individual and collective collapse in confidence and technique, rather than an absence of will. I am sure it is visually hard to tell the difference. It is, after all, impossible to try really hard when you are sitting in the pavilion wondering why your bat does not seem to work any more. How can you demonstrate your determination and resistance when you look more likely to discover the secrets of the origins of the universe than the whereabouts of your own off stump?

What will India's players do to rectify their recurring failures? Forsake the IPL in favour of a couple of full seasons of county cricket? Persuade their board not to lumber them with tour schedules that offer no worthwhile preparation, and no subsequent chance to rehabilitate their broken games? Frown, shake their heads and hope for the best? A bit of extra catching practice? Option C looks the most likely outcome.

Objectively, this was one of the most disappointing series to take place in England in recent years. This was partly because it had promised so much more and produced that ceaselessly dramatic game at Lord's, before ending with three processional hammerings, in the last two of which the outcome was essentially fixed within the first session; and partly because if England, India and Australia are going to carve up Test cricket and shape its future, they need to be able to travel to each other's countries and play something resembling Test cricket.

Since England's win in India late in 2012, four long series between the self-proclaimed Big Three have produced an aggregate score of 15-1 to the home teams, with three draws. And the "1" - India's win at Lord's - proved to be the biggest false dawn since Alphonse The First Ever Zebra killed a lion by making it choke to death on his own mane, before announcing: "Well, I don't think we are going to have anything to worry about from that particular species."

The full, official, scientifically proven Confectionery Stall analysis of England's performance in this series will appear, after due care and consideration and the collation of supporting evidence, in late August 2015

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