India in England 2011 July 26, 2011

Undercooked India get chewed apart

Sloppy fielding, players looking unfit and lack of preparation are hardly the traits of a No. 1 team. Does India's answer lie in switching to England's scientific approach that focuses on collective success?

India's reputation as slow starters was mentioned a lot during the first Test against England, and after it was confirmed with a 196-run defeat, it is sure to be repeated all the way to Trent Bridge. But their lethargic showing at Lord's exposed more than just a bad habit. Where the entire England setup seemed geared solely towards the betterment of the Test side, India looked a rabble of contradictions.

They may still turn it around in the second Test - as they did so thrillingly in Durban seven months ago - but the signs aren't good. And really, for the No. 1-ranked team in a milestone match of a marquee series, slow starts should not be tolerated. The wealth of financial and cricketing resources at India's disposal demands better.

Yet prioritising between wringing every last drop of revenue - through a packed international schedule and a hyped domestic Twenty20 tournament - and producing the No. 1 ODI and Test side is not straightforward.

Preparation, like many things, reveals itself most starkly in hindsight and it was clear from the first Test that it was something India were prepared to compromise on. England, from their drills before play, their outstanding ground fielding and especially from the crackling, unrelenting intensity of their bowling attack, looked a team completely ready for the task ahead of them. India did not.

Zaheer Khan, who could have a greater influence on the series than any of his illustrious team-mates, arrived in England in shoddy condition. For all the press releases in which the ICC and individual boards promise the primacy of Test cricket, his lack of fitness for the grand occasion of the 2000th Test match showed just how difficult putting the words into practice is.

Having helped deliver India its biggest prize, Zaheer's World Cup celebration included the 74-match IPL tournament before a lengthy break. He had the best part of seven weeks off, while many of his team-mates were in the West Indies. Last year Stuart Broad was excused from a Test series against Bangladesh but the management insisted on a strength and conditioning programme. Zaheer's generous waist-line suggested he'd had a rather easier brief.

If his preference was cricket over the gym than why wasn't that pursued? He had bowled just 50 first-class overs this calendar year before arriving in England but didn't bother with any in the second innings of India's only warm-up game at Taunton. Zaheer could even have tried to find himself some cricket in the UK although that may not have gone down too well with the England management.

It wasn't just Zaheer's fitness issues that exposed India's lack of professionalism. India's fielding was as much a throwback to the old days as Praveen Kumar's willing outswingers and made a poor comparison next to England's honed and toned athletes. The aging batsmen deserve some slack, but Ishant Sharma and Praveen too?

The India players that did make an impact on the Test - Rahul Dravid, Praveen and Ishant - all came into this series after a hard-fought one in the West Indies. Those who didn't go on that tour had all of eight days between arriving in England and the first Test to find their groove. The weather didn't help but one first-class fixture was only ever going to deliver another of those notorious slow starts.

The Future Tours Programme could be blamed but that only ignores the scope the BCCI has to influence it. Even if not, the board could have found a way for the players rested for the West Indies tour to have an extra game in England before the rest of the team arrived, or at least fly in early as they did on the South Africa tour.

Now, more than ever, managing preparation matters. Professionalism has made players ever more reliant on experts around them. With the mantra of leaving nothing to chance everything comes pre-packaged. England's management, with its squad of backroom staff, is the epitome of this. From nutrition all the way to fielding positions, the scientific planning requires furious micro-management. It has come at the expense of a certain inventiveness and self-reliance but it has also fostered an environment more focused on collective success than individual brilliance.

India have outstanding talent, which is why they are No.1 in the ICC rankings, and are led by someone whose pressure-soaking coolness has allowed them to flourish. But Test cricket is physically demanding and staying top of the Test tree requires harnessing talent through careful planning. Duncan Fletcher's brief is strictly to manage the cricketing side of the Indian team, but that may not prove enough. He was appointed largely to ensure the players are in the limelight and quietly oversee the transition of the celebrated middle order. Praveen's continued inclusion, for example, suggests Fletcher is largely superfluous to selection discussions at this stage. While with England he made it clear that pacemen who bowled under 85mph were not worthy of the title and had no place in his team. Praveen, despite his success so far, is not a seamer in the Fletcher mould.

Andy Flower, as team director of England, has a much wider scope and stronger grip on the overall functioning of English cricket. He has used that to develop a side restless in their pursuit of India's crown. Once again the slow starters are playing catch-up.

Sahil Dutta is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 29, 2011, 19:11 GMT

    "Empty vessels make loud noises" is what some so called English and some Indian cricket expert re all about. Please give India a break they were down to playing with two seam bowlers in first hour of the match!! And in those conditions where spin bowling is not conducive especially on the first two days..and then suffered injuries to key men during the match. India are world champions in both the Formats of the game for a reason and which is "Unity and Resilience" among Individual players.

  • Martin on July 29, 2011, 8:26 GMT

    @kumarcoolbuddy; Ok - I do see your point. Have to be honest - this is how it is when any team tours England. Of course it's going to uncomfortable for India - but it's equally uncomfortable for England when they are in India. When England toured India in 2008 Indian media went after England in the same way. I was there for the Chennai Test and I saw it with my own two eyes. Regarding sledging - you know, Harbhajan isn't exactly an angel and neither is Sreesanth! Look - this argument seems to be balanced, so lets call a truce and enjoy this Trent Bridge test.

  • Dummy4 on July 29, 2011, 8:09 GMT

    Indian players should start playing in Ranji trophy instead of the IPL... Conditions should be bettered for the domestic matches. IPL has screwed up Indian cricket!!!

  • Bang on July 29, 2011, 2:34 GMT

    @manujbahl, ok i will "ait" and watch for eggs. Love eggs :)

  • Santosh on July 28, 2011, 23:50 GMT

    It is 2-1 to England.Let's be practical.England is in great form off-late.The difference between India and any team outside India is Viru's blazing starts and he is out with an injury and impacting Ghambir's run scoring.Hence no good start.In AUS'08 too India preferred Jaffer over Viru for the first 2 tests and the score line read 2-0 AUS.Viru played beautiful in the next 2 tests but was very late already. Anyone can replace a Zaheer but not Viru.Even without Zaheer, India can still manage.I think Dhoni must start thinking about Mishra now and in the upcoming series must have Ojha & Ashwin in the team.Harbhajan is under pressure, may be has peaked too early in his career and failing to perform to his ability. It is time to go to domestic non-IPL cricket and take a deep breathe and start over again. Unfortunately Anil Kumbles are not born every day. India is missing a trick by forgetting Irfan and RP in swinging conditions.They must rotate players to avoid Injuries.Yuv must play Eng.

  • A on July 28, 2011, 20:46 GMT

    @SunnyGIsGawd, did you not watch the complete match ? Anderson got wickets, so what if he was hit for a few runs ? Prior, last significant innings ... how did you deduce that after he hit a century ?

    Without deriding individual players, something most Indian posters are doing here, England were well prepared and looked a professional outfit. Indian team looked like they came to the game straight from World Cup party, at least some players like certain Zaheer Khan did. If certain players are clearly unfit or out of practice, then they should not be playing. I find it strange that someone is blaming Dravid for batting too slow. Come on, seriously ? He wasn't playing T20 at Lords, you know.

    And I feel its time Tendulkar called it a day. Go out while on top, man. What other record are you trying to break ? Give the youngsters a chance.

  • Dummy4 on July 28, 2011, 20:14 GMT

    @Rudra Rakshit That comment by me is for you.

  • Dummy4 on July 28, 2011, 20:10 GMT

    @second previous If Dravid hadn't scored that century, India would have faced innings defeat and innings defeat is completely different from lost by 196 runs, for your information(cause you seem to be unaware of this :D). If you don't like Dravid_Gravitas, just comment on him, you have no rights to rate rahul as a selfish. No rights can be well replaced with 'no knowledge of cricket'. What you have done for Indian cricket to rate a guy like Rahul a selfish?

  • Dummy4 on July 28, 2011, 19:21 GMT

    Many of us complaint of Greg Chappel being worst for India. If you observe closely, he made it a star team from team of stars (something that we as Indians always cherished, individual performance over team success, untill recently). He made team to give a scare in test even if could not win. Had he been there its certain West Indies series would have had a different approach towards the game we agreed to close much early. A better preparation for the stars - Zaheer, SRT, ... who are above the game. This is not a critism b'cos we lost the first test, but we need to intraspect to get over this stardom idea....

  • Senthil on July 28, 2011, 18:45 GMT

    UNDERcooked? I thought the problem was with them being OVERcooked!

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