November 2, 2012

Revenge is not the answer

India must play to their strengths against England, but not at the cost of forgetting their long-term goals

The word "revenge" keeps cropping up in the build-up to India's series against England, like a whiff of malodorous air on a pleasant evening. I don't like the word. It has the wrong intent. It can produce very short-term goals and can be counter-productive in the long run. Revenge is inevitably clothed in anger, and that is a terrible way to play sport. I fear, too, that the desire to seek revenge can come in the way of the quest for excellence, a far better objective to possess.

Against England, for example, revenge could mean preparing rank turners and unleashing spinners (or more pertinently, helping your batsmen, who can play their spinners better). Rank turners are as bad as trampolines, where the ball bounces from stupid lengths, make batting dangerous, and produce an unequal contest.

I don't mind the producing of pitches that aid spinners, where the ball grips the surface and turns, where batting requires great skill to overcome the bowling. That is fair and is part of the home advantage host teams are entitled to. It is also an essential part of touring and of playing in away conditions.

Preparing dust tracks will give India an inflated opinion of their own spinners and will tell the country's young fast bowlers that when the time comes to step up, they will be the first casualties. When India tour overseas, the fast bowlers will have to be dusted off and the spinners will look inadequate. A short-term goal might be served but in the long-term India will be weakened.

To be fair, India haven't produced too many dust tracks in recent times. Mumbai 2004 was an aberration. It was bad, but only as bad as the pitches for India in New Zealand in 2002 and in Durban in 1996. In fact, New Zealand 2002 is a good example. They produced terrible wickets and won the series with bowlers like Daryl Tuffey and Jacob Oram looking nearly unplayable, but their cricket went nowhere thereafter.

India should back themselves on good turning tracks where skilled batsmen have the opportunity to score runs. They shouldn't have to produce anything worse.

The spirit of revenge will also mean an obsession with a 4-0 scoreline, and that is too far in the distance. Sport often tells you that you need to take one step at a time. You can't think of winning the third set when you are still playing the first. India need to think of winning the first Test, only then contemplate the second, and not think of the fourth till three have been played.

Indeed, the first Test will give them an idea of how good the team really is, for there are problems within it - of form and longevity of key cricketers, for a start. Indian cricket is in a state of flux. Two key batsmen have retired and one key spinner - Harbhajan Singh - has gone off the radar. The openers need to convince everyone that they can put together long partnerships again. India will do well to try to win the first Test and think of the next thereafter.

I suspect, though, that beneath this veneer of great confidence lies a slightly troubled outlook. Not playing a frontline spinner against England in a tour game is an acceptable tactical move but a slightly defensive one. If indeed India plan to waylay England with spin on turning tracks, the more aggressive option would have been to play the spinners ranked Nos. 6, 7 and 8 on the selectors' shortlist, backing them to run through the visitors on a proper spinner's deck in Mumbai. That would be the subcontinental version of what the Aussies often did to touring sides: start at Perth on a fiery track with good first-class quicks, dismantle the visitors before they could adjust, and direct them to the first Test in Brisbane with thoughts of having to play superior bowling on a bouncy pitch. Rather than hide their weapons, the Australians attacked early with them.

I got the impression India weren't too confident of their spin-bowling resources to follow that strategy, but it would still have been a good approach.

I think the opposition England provide will depend largely on how they rate themselves. Too many English teams have arrived in India eager to find traps: food, dust and spin. But now the grounds are nice, the hotels are outstanding (they all serve quality international cuisine), and playing in India isn't really that difficult. Teams with players in the IPL already display the comfort factor, but not many Englishmen have played here. If they search for reasons to fail, they will find them. But if they back themselves, embrace India and look forward to the next morning, I believe they can be more than a handful.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on November 5, 2012, 2:51 GMT

    Harsha's embracing the "one step at a time" approach is welcome. Cricket is cyclical with ebbs & flows. India's been in a down cycle since the 2011 WC triumph. Now's the time to buckle up & move on. The focus is on NOW. It's futile to talk about SA in 2013 or WCT20 in 2014. Who'd have imagined No.1 India to fall off the Test cliff so abruptly? Reality: Competition is more even, more parity among the top 5 teams. It's so difficult to win on the road. That's why India must leverage fully its home advantage. And field the best players available now. Advance one game at a time. As Sachin says: "I'm looking at it series by series. As long as I feel that I can deliver, I will continue playing"! His reassuring presence is inspiring. Remember his dedicating India's Test win in Chennai to his fellow Mumbaikars in the aftermath of the 2008 terror attacks? Also the English side's sporting spirit to resume the tour at that difficult time? Agreed: It's time for India's comeback, not payback!

  • Jay on November 5, 2012, 2:35 GMT

    Harsha - It's about Redemption, not Revenge! It's Team India's shot to get over that horrendous last trip to England, to show resilience & bounce back. With the way that tour went - key injuries, awful weather & zombie replacements - they're going to be motivated to redeem themselves. And they're going to be tested early & often. That's where they'll find out quickly who they are as a team in the face of adversity. Yes, Team India is in transition. But there's no need to overreact with drastic moves or knee-jerk actions. That's where senior leadership comes in, especially "Captain Cool" Dhoni: to channel the players' ("hurt") feelings into positive energy & boost the team's confidence. They've tasted the good champagne before. Here's an opportunity to taste it again, only one game at a time. That's how comebacks happen. Peter Roebuck put it best in explaining the secret to Sachin's renewal success: "Always stay focused on the next ball"! Just what Team India needs to do!

  • Jay on November 4, 2012, 0:58 GMT

    @MattyP1979: Oh and one more thing. You say India won't humiliate England. Now, I know India are not a good test team compared to England BUT what makes YOU say that ? Are you a soothsayer ? What if England do get whitewashed by this underdog Indian side ? Why is it that people always over look Indian cricket ? Our domestic teams are giving England so much trouble. Please follow the news. Oh and there is NOTHING wrong for India to prepare rank turners. That's what is known as home advantage. It's their prerogative. It's up to England to adapt, master, and survive the conditions. If England are really good, they shouldn't have any problem now would they ? Also, you claim there aren't bigger lambs away from home than India. You have been ignorant enough to overlook almost 10 good years of Indian test cricket overseas. India have had so much success ever since Ganguly took over as captain. So many wins and draws overseas than losses. Please check your facts. 2011 was just 1 bad year.

  • Jay on November 4, 2012, 0:46 GMT

    @MattyP1979: Your theory is pure rubbish. So it's OKAY for teams like England, SA, and Australia to lose in India while it's cardinal SIN for India to lose away from home ????? I am not trying to butter up India's obvious fallacies while playing overseas but the fact remains that MOST teams are LAMBS abroad. I don't care about score lines, it's about winning or losing. So even if England or Australia lose 1-0 or 2-0 as opposed to 4-0, it's STILL losing ! While I am frustrated at India's lacklustre ability overseas, it's also heartening to know that almost EVERY other team are equally HOPELESS overseas. Case closed.

  • Mike on November 3, 2012, 21:30 GMT

    For all those saying they can't have been green tops because England scored loads. What about the pitches were India scored loads and skittles opposition out for small scores? they were rank turners. difference is, india have quality players of spin, whereas other teams don't. Likewise, in England, the pitches were 100% green tops. Just because England scored on them doesn't mean they weren't.

  • Mathew on November 3, 2012, 19:57 GMT

    Revenge shouldn't be the answer for Ind. 1. Becasue they will not humiliate Eng as they were, and 2. because this method of play has and will continue to ruin any chances they have outside the sub. Howver since they are playing 4 out of 5 years in the sub this second point might not matter. Lions at home has ben carted at many teams of late, but their a fewer bigger lambs away than Ind.

  • Feroz on November 3, 2012, 17:10 GMT

    Harsha is right this time. It's alright to play to win but also we should play fair and with sportsman spirit. Cricket is a gentleman's game and not playing a spinner in a warm up game is only going to strain relations with the visiting side. In that way they should not even had a warm up game for the visiting side and got them to play official test right away.

  • Dummy4 on November 3, 2012, 15:47 GMT

    Good article but it fails to identify that has been Indian policy since ages that is why they have struggled despite having high quality batsmen it would be better if they play green wickets. Which can turn from day three this would also help their batsmen

  • Mafaz on November 3, 2012, 13:37 GMT

    I,am a raina fan so I loved

  • Travis on November 3, 2012, 13:03 GMT

    Revenge? What have India got to be vengeful about? Vengeance is a word that implies that you've been wronged in some way. India has no wrong to right, they were simply obliterated 4-0 by a better team when they toured England.

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