August 20, 2014

India don't need to succeed in Tests

Andy Zaltzman
It's the bat's fault, not mine  © AFP
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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

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

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Posted by dunger.bob on (August 23, 2014, 13:37 GMT)

It would be a huge shame if India gave up Test cricket. A huge shame.

Still, the show must go on and I'm sure it would. I think Australia could find the dosh to send a side to England once every four years and vice versa. There might be a few others around who might like to stay involved and they'd be very welcome, as long as they could pay their way.

Posted by Clyde on (August 20, 2014, 15:18 GMT)

Other formats would be OK if they were not rigged, with the circle, for example.

The aim for the Indians in Australia must be to block for four days and allow one day to get Australia out twice. This explains why it would be a disgrace if Australia let India win lunch, let alone a Test match.

Posted by sweetspot on (August 20, 2014, 14:08 GMT)

Forget about the Indian team not needing to succeed in Tests. Why do we need them to? This is only good for getting some clarity on the fact that Test cricket is slowly fading into oblivion and it should be encouraged to get out of the way soon. If India failing repeatedly can starve Test cricket of the oxygen it needs for life support, then so be it. Can't wait for the next season of IPL.

Posted by whirlaway on (August 20, 2014, 14:08 GMT)

@true-numbers: The thing with IPL (other than the fact that it is not really cricket!) is that even its own fans cannot remember in 2 weeks who were the two teams in the "great" match that took place today! Whereas in case of Tests, fans can recall many details of the "great" Tests that happened even 30 or 40 years ago. Even in case of ODIs, people can remember decades later, even minor details of a truly great match, like the 1983 WC India v Zim match at Tunbridge Wells. But now, because of IPL, the word "great" seems to have lost all meaning!

There is no doubt that the IPL has messed up with India's Test performance. But at some point, perhaps in the next World Cup, people will see how much it has screwed up the *ODI* performances as well. That is when they will wake up.

So, they need a 4-0 thrashing in Australia, followed by a failure to make the semi-finals in the World Cup, before Indian fans realize that there is a problem.

Posted by steve48 on (August 20, 2014, 11:29 GMT)

Andy touched on the real problem, lack of exposure to conditions. I am not even sure the Indians lacked any desire, they just haven't seen the ball bend and nip around like that before. Even Dravid and Fletcher cant give the player the actual practice. Test cricket will die on the lack of acclimatization to bowler friendly conditions. Conditions such as those at the Oval could result in a 1 1/2 day test next summer, cos the Aussies will be equally lost at batting, but will bowl and field better! You are talking about an almost complete dismantling of existing technique to play quickish swing and seam. Everyone cried out for these conditions early in the summer, I thought at the time, " don't they like watching cricket"? The last 2 tests= 1, 5 day test match!

Posted by analyseabhishek on (August 20, 2014, 10:53 GMT)

Andy is spot-on, yet succint. The confusion of the three formats as well as haphazard scheduling will ultimately kill Cricket, especially Test Cricket. It is futile to blame the Cricketers- like the article says, they don't *need* to be successfull in test cricket any longer. I already notice winds changing in India, in bigger cities. My colleagues don't even bother about how India is getting thrashed. They are more concerned about how their football club is faring.

Posted by sreehk on (August 20, 2014, 10:51 GMT)

India should have a MANDATE to play:

a) 15 test matches, 30 ODIs and 10 T20 matches in a year - spans 8 months b) 3 first class matches - spans 1 month c) England/Aus/SA county season - 1 month d) cooling period - 2 months

IPL should be played once in two years. And that year first class season might be foregone and cooling period will be one month.

Pay salaries as below: a) Good Test-ODI-T20 player - highest salary A grade b) Good ODI-T20 player - B grade salary c) Good T20 player - C grade salary

So there will be urge to play good test cricket. Also nominate National or sports awards for Test cricket only. Incentive to perform at that level.

There is no reason why cricket can be pure, while we still can have IPL fun once in two years.

Posted by   on (August 20, 2014, 10:36 GMT)

Nobody remembers one-day matches. They just don't matter.

Posted by here2rock on (August 20, 2014, 10:07 GMT)

India need to cut down on playing 5 test match series, 3 test matches are more than enough. However they need 7 days rest between the matches and at least 2, 4 days warm up games when touring Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa. India is touring Australia later this year and they are playing 2 warm matches of 2 days before taking on Australia. Absolutely crazy! I can already see 4-0 result. India needs to plan better if they are to achieve better results. I have no idea who actually approves tour itinerary, he/she should be sacked straight away.

Posted by   on (August 20, 2014, 10:05 GMT)

Andy, as always, does what he does best,.. Brilliant analysis.. You hit the nail on its head with "they want to but dont 'need' to do well in test matches" .. This is exactly the problem.. They dont need to do well in tests bcoz, whatever their performance, they're guaranteed big bucks in the IPL.. I'm not saying that IPL should be scrapped.. But, BCCI should do something to make the players get enough FC games or county cricket under thier belt.. It wont do them any harm.. Well, i didnt do Sachin & Dravid any harm, did it? In the current lot of batsmen, only Rahane & Pujara has some amount of FC matches to their name.. They should play more domestic cricket atleast, if county is not possible..

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on ESPNcricinfo.

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