July 29, 2011

Lessons from Lord's

India's passion for their No. 1 status has been conspicuous by absence in their preparations for big tours

And so India lose the first game of a series again. Writers scurry along to write articles they have often written in the past, pundits voice the same thoughts, many more programmes are done, fans continue to moan, and the sun continues to rise, erasing the previous day. And the weeks go on, as do the months. Soon there will be another game, people will still be buying tickets, television rights will still be sold, and loyal fans will find something else to cheer about.

But the BCCI could well say it has always been like this and India are still No. 1. That is indeed true, but I'm sure it knows, for it's as shrewd as anyone else, that India's ascent is not because it has always been like that but despite it.

If a student gets a distinction after studying under streetlights, you don't make him study under streetlights all the time, do you? This is a high-quality Indian cricket team, but the journey towards excellence never ceases. Intel makes great processors, but it is always trying to make better ones, and for India to remain the best they must be passionate about being No. 1. That passion was missing at Lord's.

India's itineraries have always been like a school time-table: 9.20-10.10: English, 10.10-11.00: Physics, 11.00-11.50: History. February 19-April 02: World Cup, April 08-May 28: IPL, June 04-July 10: tour of the West Indies, June 15-September 16: tour of England. And so on.

In the BCCI's defence, it has always said that if a player needs rest, the board will allow it, and accordingly a lot of players missed the tour of the West Indies. So surely they should have been fresh for England? But resting and being ready are two different things. Hitting a ball in the nets cannot simulate batting against high-quality swing bowling. If you just turn up, you play like you have... well, just turned up. And it is not only India. England came straight from Australia to the World Cup, and lost matches they should have won. Some of Australia's players came straight from the Champions League in South Africa to a Test series in India, and struggled. Each time players and administrators knew what was right, yet did what was wrong. It is like sitting across the table, and talking about peace; you know what to do but won't do it

It can be argued that had Zaheer Khan not been injured the result could have been different. And it could just as well be argued that injuries can happen any time. It is a fair argument except that it leads you to a sub-optimal solution, which is to continue being under-prepared, to believe that the current state of affairs will continue to deliver results. Athletes and other sportsmen tune themselves to be ready for the big occasion. They may still lose, but they will lose having prepared the best they could. England in England are an outstanding side. At the best of times it would require a great effort to beat them, but India did not allow themselves that opportunity. An argument cannot erase the truth.

India should be a better side in Nottingham, but will have to dust themselves and stand up again. England will emerge full of confidence, and while voices in the media have already anointed them No. 1 in the world, the word from within the team is appropriately cautious. "We don't feel we are No. 1 in the world because we are not. We are No. 3," Andy Flower said. "Talking rankings is pointless at the moment." It is precisely this thinking, as opposed to appropriating the future before it has presented itself, that sets this England team apart. There are many other reasons, most of them good, and, as Nasser Hussain suggested, they are playing less and feeling fresher.

India have the pedigree to bounce back in Nottingham, but must find a way to take 20 wickets. They will be tougher and better prepared, and from that point of view a four-Test series allows them a little longer to force their way back than a three-Test affair can. But they shouldn't have to play catch-up all the time. It's a lesson yet to be learned.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Srinivas on July 31, 2011, 1:24 GMT

    Harsha, I'm not going to touch on your article because I agree with everything you said. I'm going to touch on things that you didn't. There's more to our loss than the topics you touched. Dhoni and Ishant post lunch day 4. What's that story? Aren't 40 minutes of rest at lunch enough for a young fast bowler in cool english conditions? Did Dhoni goof up in the choice of his bowler post lunch and then begged and cajoled Ishant to go to media to cook a story so that Dhoni can save his own skin? Or did Ishant indeed request for a break? Either way you look at it, that's horrible Captaincy that cost us the match. What kind of a Captain is he that he couldn't make his budding young fast bowler see the enormity of the occassion? I was heart broken. Add to that, look at the way Sachin played and let the bowlers dictate terms with that single off 40 balls. Dhoni's captaincy and Sachin's negativity cost us dearly. Clearly these two goofed up things that they have control over.

  • Nishant on July 31, 2011, 0:18 GMT

    I totally agree that Dhoni has now become a part of India's tail which refuses to wag. Dhoni is not staying long enough in front of the stumps, not doing a good job behind it and not thinking/planning/ reacting to situations as he used to in the past as a captain. It seems his hunger has been more than satiated with leading the team to the 20-20 and the ODI world cups and being at the helm of an Indian team that is at the top of the Test rankings. If not, then it's high time he lifted his game by at-least a few notches if he is to remain captain and in the team. He should not forget the the Indian fans and the selectors have a short memory. Places of greats such as Sachin, Dravid and VVS in the test side have been called into question fairly quickly, and Dhoni needs to show some real cricket if he wants to hang in there.

  • S on July 30, 2011, 21:44 GMT

    Dare I state the obvious? With all the injuries and the famed English conditions, England have a slight edge. And they are good enough to convert that slight edge into victories. Surely India will fight hard, and surely there will be the token Tendulkar century, and the columnists will have enough to write about. But they will lose the series because Prior is better than Dhoni. Also, England can consistently score 50-100 runs after losing seven wickets. India's tail, which now includes Dhoni, can't provide 50 runs per innings. Dravid and Laxman can't score 75% of the runs everyday, because that's not how it works. Forget about #1, if India has to remain in the top 4, their players have to "rest" out of the IPL. Yeah right! As if that would ever happen.

  • VIPUL on July 30, 2011, 11:40 GMT






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  • Dummy4 on July 30, 2011, 11:01 GMT

    I dont think Indians ever have a passion to be the No. 1 team in the world and that's why they keep on losing winning games or throw away their wickets. They are at the top because the other teams are playing badly and our team has maintained their standard for a long time.

    Its very plain to see that England are dying to be No. 1 Team, in Tests and ODIs, and try and wrestle back the advantage of controlling the ICC from BCCI .

  • Dave on July 30, 2011, 9:19 GMT

    What happen to Zak who claimed that he knew his body well and only a constant workout will keep him fit. Look like his waist line suggest otherwise.

    What are the team doctors doing by not giving flu shot to the team as soon as they arrived in England?

  • Vishwa on July 30, 2011, 7:39 GMT

    @Rahulbose.But, iit was one of those "seniors" who let India in with even a glimmer of a hope with that century. On the other hand, may I suggest that there should be some cap on the number of matches a player can play in an IPL. Let there be a mandatory rotation policy. This is taking a toll on international cricket.

  • Dummy4 on July 30, 2011, 7:04 GMT

    Have been harping on this for some time now. Just like some players are considered to be "format specialists" (e.g. VVS for tests and Y Pathan for T20), we need to prepare some "condition specialists" (e.g. specialists for Aus, WI, SA and Eng conditions). The English condition specialists can train in simulated conditions back home and also be encouraged to play English county cricket.

  • umang on July 30, 2011, 5:46 GMT

    well...india have always been complacent when it really matters and it always let the opposition off the hooks only when the last knock out punch is required..which is certainly not the way champions play....atleast not the way I saw australian play growing up.Be it desperation of not being able to clean up the tail in first test in WI, or tamely giving up the chase in last test or letting stuart broad take the initaitive after ravaging the top order ....as a loyal fan i have always been disappointed in team for losing way just when the looked lke conquering it all. Since forever we have been an unbeatable side but only on papers and currently statistically the no 1 test side but that doesnt excites nobody .what does is watching Sreesanth leethal outswinger taking the edge ,zaheer yorker distorting stumps ,and praveen slow swingers baffling the batsmen....AND someone standing up when team needs it , taking team across the line!!

  • Shruti on July 30, 2011, 1:21 GMT

    Would my favourite from Bandra do it today at Notts? Series has reached a defining moment.Hail Kumar,Sreesanth and Sharma .Down with the turbanator.I guess,Notts -India,Birmingham-India ,Oval -England. Series 2-2.India no.1 and England No.3 .Well written Mr.Bhogle ,for a change.

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