September 16, 2011

If India have intent, success will follow

Just like England did, India need to put the national team ahead of all other interests

After two months I am getting ready to say goodbye to England, a country I have started growing quite fond of. Admittedly I see it in the summer, through the eyes of a visitor. I don't have a mortgage; I have room service and housekeeping instead. But the parks have been as pristine as ever, the motorways reliable, the hotels better than before, and the good old Ploughman's sandwich is still a great snack. London has been in good form, with its old buildings standing resplendent. Why, even telephone calls back home are cheaper than a local text.

"But the cricket was terrible," everyone tells me. From visitors in the lobby of the St James' Court, to students who saved money and braved the weather to follow India, to expatriate Indians who get to support "their" side once every few years. They shake their heads, like only we can, and go on and on about the "terrible cricket". I disagree. The result, if you were an India fan, was terrible, but the cricket wasn't. England played better cricket than I have seen them play in all the years I have been following this game.

England didn't just outplay India, they out-planned them. And there is a lesson there. In our part of the world, instinct rules, whether we are driving, getting into a train, or flicking late, backward of square. It is an instinct honed by working in systems that are not perfect. Without an instinct for survival, we will be crushed under.

There is an argument that if all systems are perfect it kills initiative, that people become dependent and sluggish. But like with all arguments, the perfect place is somewhere in between. In pockets of stability, under Wright and Ganguly and under Kirsten and Dhoni, India experienced a successful system, but because whatever was right wasn't institutionalised, or because maybe it was only an accidental coming together of this group of people (blasphemy!), India were always going to be inconsistent.

Over the last 18 months England have found that spot. They took time getting there, for the seed was sown under Fletcher and Hussain, but by creating legislation to put the England cricket team first and all else second, and by having strong, successful people in charge, England have embarked on a path likely to serve them well for a while. Many challenges remain - playing on the subcontinent, for example - but the intent is there, and I have often said that when intent is genuine, everything else follows.

This is not an England who can sweep all before them with extraordinary ability. There is, in this team, no Hayden, no Ponting, no Gilchrist, no Warne and no McGrath. Yes, there is a Cook, a Pietersen and a Bell, a Swann and an Anderson, but it isn't yet the same thing. England have won on the back of strong preparation and a strong work ethic, and as India prepare to let a fine generation go, they too must learn to do that.

Indeed, India can react to this defeat in different ways. One is to assume that nothing has happened and continue, which would be a bit like the approach to food rotting in our warehouses: just let it be. It's not an unpopular approach. A second way would be to prepare turners in October and hope all is forgotten. It might win India the one-day series against England, but it will only make the players better at what they are already good at, and no better at what they aren't particularly good at. India would learn nothing from that approach.

Instead, India could start an aggressive exercise aimed at improving a very promising lot of batsmen and finding some bowlers. But who will be the teachers and who will be the scouts? Whose job will it be to revive Irfan Pathan and take RP Singh and Sreesanth to the next level? It can't be the bowling coach because he will be with the national team. Who will teach Virat Kohli how to score runs at the next level? Who will work with Ajinkya Rahane and Abhinav Mukund? I do not fear for talent in Indian cricket, I fear for the teachers who have to mould that talent. Have you seen any? Is there the intent?

But while we debate that - and we must - we must also congratulate England. True, they played at home, but they have begun to show solidity and a love for detail. At last they have begun to do with cricket what they did with roads, railways and buildings. Now, will it last as long as those have?

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Naresh on September 19, 2011, 13:49 GMT

    S_chowdhury is right when he mentions Akash Chopra as an opener.A true Indian professional opener. Just read some of his articles. Fast bowling is a problem - besides Zaheer, Nehra, Ishant and Sreesanth there is very little. I once read about a good strong fast bowler from the Punjab - Abid Nabi. India needs to look for bowlers capable of 145+ We are often mocked as having miltary medium pacers. Under 140. I am not worried about spinners as we do have some developing all the time. There is lots of batting talent. We need more good fast left armers. On this English tour we had too many right armers. A slower bowler like Praveen Kumar makes up with lots of guts. Ishant was bound to be injured as he played too much in Windies and England. He had no support at all.

  • Sushobhan on September 19, 2011, 4:24 GMT

    India should have taken an experienced opener like Akash Chopra in lieu of Mukand. Arguably the greatest close-in catcher after the days of Solkar, Akash contributed heavily to India's modest success during the Australian tour. He would have been the ideal choice for the England tour especially after his exploits in the last Ranji season. Unfortunately, whenever his chance had come, either Jaffer, Vijay or Mukand had been given opportunity. I hope he still gets his due. He is not yet spoilt by the T20 cricket and is an ideal third opener for foreign tour.

  • Jay on September 19, 2011, 2:50 GMT

    (Cont) As Nasser Hussain commented so often: Whatever was to go wrong, went wrong for India in the series. When it rains it pours. England took advantage of everything: familiar playing conditions, weather, home-field, even tosses. They deserve credit. It was truly a show of "asymmetrical warfare" (military jargon), where one side's resources are so depleted, it is annihilated by a well-armed enemy at full-strength. How can a team that was No.1 in Tests & won the WC just 6 months ago become so "terrible"? Answer: Missing 6 key WC personnel was a calamity! There was no contingency plan. The replacement players, bar one or two, were no match. The result was inevitable. Listen to Dhoni. He knows "what actually went wrong." What next? Give the Fletcher-Dhoni system a fair shake. Retrain the entire roster on basics. Prioritise bowling. Emphasise scouting & player development. Rehab the injured back to good health. They're still the best. The intent is there. Out of calamity emerges success.

  • Jay on September 19, 2011, 2:36 GMT

    Harsha - There's nothing much an organization can do when struck suddenly by calamity, however solid its (strategic) intent might be. In 2008-09, General Motors - then the world's No.1 automaker - collapsed into bankruptcy, wrecked by the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Toyota Motors - the new No.1 - is likely to lose its top ranking because of disastrous production disruptions caused by the Japanese tsunami earlier this year. In both cases, their contingency plans were inadequate & ineffective. Now we've witnessed a cricket calamity on this English tour: Team India's Waterloo. Captain Dhoni summed it up matter-of factly: "I have never seen so many injuries in the last 5 years. To lose 9 to 11 players in one series is something I can never forget." Spare a thought for Dhoni: How can the hapless captain navigate a sinking ship in a horrific sea storm, without his most experienced crew? How can there be "stability" when the team's ballast is unsettled & imbalanced? TBC

  • manoj on September 18, 2011, 16:57 GMT

    I do agree with HG. One of the major shortcoming of the Indian team which restricts its winning streak is its poor fielding and loosening up the game. How many times do you remember the Mighty Aussies under Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist allow the opposition to make a comeback in the game after loosing 3-4 early wickets - almost none. Moreover, they extraordinary capability to gather even half chances proved to be match- turning points on regular basis. Why not give another chance to Irfan Pathan to prove his mettle as a swing bowler and an all-rounder. Whats the point in giving chances to Murali Vijay??? Why not go for Manish Pandey and Robin Uttappa instead. We all know what they are capable of doing to the opposition attacks

  • P Subramani on September 18, 2011, 12:00 GMT

    I do not know why some comment makes are so rabidly against India. Probably because India have been No 1 undeservedly for nearly 2 years or that some players have not been bid for in the IPL or India' sheer economic standing both in cricket and as a nation. For all such people ---I could make a team of such baiters really--- I wish to say that India is no longer No 1 in any form of cricket and so they should keep their angst for some other team. Asians should really have been happy when India were doing well in going to the top of the ICC rankings and winning the World Cup. When Pakistan and Sri Lanka won the World Cup there was much jubilation in India. What Asians must remember is that for many years, only Australia and England mattered. The West Indies just made it on the basis of their might and excellence. So when there is someone from Asia doing well, I feel all Asian should have something to be proud of.

  • Babish on September 18, 2011, 7:08 GMT

    Since most of the English batsmen peak in the carrers past 30yrs Cook looks all set to create some records on his own.

  • Babish on September 18, 2011, 7:00 GMT

    Cook is 26 years old and England plays 99 tests in next 8 years.Imagine Cook playing in 75% of those tests.He will be one of the English all time greats.

  • JAYARAMAN on September 18, 2011, 2:12 GMT

    Bhogle is absolutely right. One point he has not touched, a very cvital one - fielding. Safe fielding does not require talent. There are Indian cricketers who show their disinclination to field. Whatever their achievements in batting or bowling, they should be dropped from the team with immediate effect. As any genuine cricket lover knows - no one can say he committed only one mistake - and this applies equally to fielding.

  • Faisal on September 17, 2011, 18:28 GMT

    you know what with regards to content these articles are getting pretty monotonous. India should do this and India should do that, i have a better idea let Harsha lead the BCCI that would solve all the problems. It seems as though there isnt anything else happening in Indian cricket!? also please stop telling people that England planned well and won; No sir! they planned well and had better skill than the Indians to execute those plans. Accept defeat in a graceful manner!

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