November 30, 2012

England have found resolve and character

Their captain's second-innings hundred in Ahmedabad infused self-belief in the side. But were India complacent about their superiority on these pitches?

You see it in sport all the time, don't you? Teams just slipping over the line between creating conditions to suit themselves, which is acceptable, and believing in their invincibility in the conditions thus created. "Leave the grass on and have a drink on the fourth day," the grizzled, hard veterans in the pubs will say. "Turner re, from first morning... no chance," their counterparts, sipping cutting chai, will proclaim in an Irani restaurant. Sometimes players can get caught up in such scripts too. The groundsman is anointed the match-winner.

It cannot be so, and there is a sense of joy in the sports lover when the contrary scenario unfolds.

Did India get caught up in thinking that it wasn't 11 players but 22 yards that would win them the series? Having struggled against bounce and pace, did they allow themselves to believe that turn was all that was needed to return the compliment? Somewhere, did a hurt ego seek comfort in a larger ego? Did India commit the cardinal sin in sport of underestimating the opponent?

In life, as in sport, when you belittle the opponent, he turns around and bites you. India have done it to others and, I greatly fear, it was done to them in Mumbai.

There are many qualities that line up in a contest. Skill is the most obvious one, but resolve is a stronger one to possess. When conditions are against you, teams can either slip into despair and hopelessness - which is what England have tended to do on the subcontinent - or they can give birth to resolve, which England, I suspect, discovered within themselves. It is a sign of character, and Alastair Cook and the team that played in Mumbai showed a lot of it.

The Test match in Mumbai reminded me of two other games in recent years. I was in Perth in 2008 when, after the unsavoury, even unbecoming, drama of the Sydney Test, a bouncy track was unveiled to the tourists. India were meant to lose in three days, in part to the bounce, in part to the disappointment of the result in Sydney. But courage can sometimes sit alongside adversity, and India produced one of their finest performances to beat Australia at their game. In 82 overs of pace in the first innings, Australia's feted four-pronged attack took 9 for 261. India's relatively inexperienced bowlers, in the same conditions, bowled 38 overs and took 8 for 165. Irfan Pathan, RP Singh and Ishant Sharma did in Perth what Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann did in Mumbai. It wasn't skill alone. It was resolve, for India were strong in Australia.

As they were in South Africa in 2010-11. In Centurion, India were bowled out for 136 and on the same surface South Africa amassed 620 for 4. India made 459 batting a second time, and while they lost by an innings and 25 runs, and familiar talk was heard, they had shown themselves that they could play. So they competed in the second Test in Durban, again on a surface that Indians are normally expected to turn their backs from. VVS Laxman ground out 96 and Zaheer Khan stood firm for 27 in a partnership of 70 that was the difference between the two teams. A fighting loss had generated belief and resolve and had overcome a traditional weakness in skill.

Will England be lulled into thinking that the peak has been conquered? If they do, resolve will be vanquished by complacence, guts by smugness

That is what England did in Ahmedabad. Had they folded up in the second innings there, they would have found in the same Wankhede surface unspeakable horrors. They would have been spooked, the series would have been over, the cutting chai in the Irani restaurant might have been sipped on the third evening.

But Cook's second-innings century prepared the team for the innings Kevin Pietersen played in Mumbai. Pietersen's innings will be talked about for many, many years. Young men not yet old enough to be fathers will recall it to their grandchildren, but Cook produced the resolve that created the conditions for genius to flower.

The teams go to Kolkata level on paper, but the demons in the mind that control fortunes have migrated to India. India will be tested, because, in this wonderful see-saw that a longish series allows, they now need to be resolute. England will be tested just as much, for winning can deceive too. Will England be lulled into thinking that the peak has been conquered? If they do, resolve will be vanquished by complacence, guts by smugness. If, however, they can keep victory at arm's length, as they did defeat in Ahmedabad, they could give themselves a shot at history.

To think that if we had those maddening two-Test series, the untold joys that I hope lie before us would have never been possible. I like the spontaneity and exuberance of T20, but this vast canvas of strengths and frailties, this exhibition of character has me hooked.

I look forward to seeing the great skills these teams possess in Kolkata and Nagpur, but even more, I look forward to seeing how they approach the many different situations that Test cricket thrusts them into. And I will hope to be reassured that it is 11 men who produce the results, not 22 yards of turf.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • moginraj on December 3, 2012, 5:00 GMT

    i think its dhoni!!! he's not inspiring in TEST!!!! some leadership needs to come from indian selectors, atleast after this series....

  • narendra on December 2, 2012, 12:59 GMT

    yes you are absolutely spot on harsha ,i have been thinking myself too . It is also the matter of giving youngsters like pujara and kohli a chances to play on bouncy tracks so that they can improve themselves and play for long time in overseas pitches.

  • Dummy4 on December 1, 2012, 22:37 GMT

    Dhoni has lost the plot. He is in a confused place between the necessity to win v/s what qualifies for playing good cricket. Let's say India win the series on rank turners, who cares about such lopsided victories. As an Indian cricket supporter I don't stand for half cricket - only the spinning half that is

  • Neil on December 1, 2012, 21:01 GMT

    England have some momentum, but it was just a week or so ago, we were the ones being humiliated. It was a great win for England and as an England fan a great way to counter the endless cant play spin talk. But still I dont make England favorities. Over the two games, the England XI have still struggled more as a batting unit than India's and I still feel England are more likely at the fall of 1 or 2 key wickets to fold. The difference could be if Finn can live upto his potential or Broad comes to life. The ability to take early wickets will be very important. I am perfectly happy with rank turners and the home team designing pitches to suit their bowling strengths, thats what makes touring and winning overseas a challenge. What I dont want to see if flat batting tracks in the subcontinet or those common in Aus, where the ball just sits up so reliably above stump height.

  • Sriraj on December 1, 2012, 21:00 GMT

    A very good article from Harsha finally after a couple of years...just one minor correction though: The Perth pitch in 2008 was not prepared to be fast or bouncy since CA was keen on appeasing the tourists after the Sydney fiasco. Doesn't take a lot away from the win though.

  • Dummy4 on December 1, 2012, 17:06 GMT

    If inspiration was infectious i believe complacence is too.

    # cook's century in Ahmedabad leads to kevin's century in mumbai

  • Ravi on December 1, 2012, 16:40 GMT

    The performance of players as rightly pointed out is the deciding factor for the outcome of a match. The pitch can aid in ensuring a result. The general environmental conditions will always favor the home sides. Because of the home conditions it is but natural that they favor the hosting team. But skills are honed after practice and training whatever be the inherent natural talent of the players. The success and failures that are outcomes from match situations is achieved mainly from the skill sets on display and the conditions of nature. Cold conditions are generally less favorable to subcontinental teams and hot humid conditions are rather tough on the visitors to the sub continent. The catches that go abegging in the cold conditions and the chill conditions which hit the hands hard result in the outcomes of the match generally against the subcontinent teams. Also the height factor and physique also provide advantages in being able to deal with fast bowling and batting short stuff.

  • Chandra on December 1, 2012, 14:49 GMT

    Spot on observation by Harsha as usual.Indian camp is focussing more on 22 yards than the english team.English team more keen on adapting and excelling while Indian camp more focussed on making conditions tough for englishmen, rather than focussing on their game.On other note, India simply does not have spinners of the quality of Kumble to exploit Indian conditions.Seems like there is a dearth of good spinners in the country.Additionally Indian batters were mighty exposed against good quality spin of Swann and Monty.Out played in batting and Bowling

  • Dummy4 on December 1, 2012, 12:46 GMT

    I like Harsha Bogle's article, very unbiased and objective observations. I see India sliding down the ladder because of lack of confidence and belief under Dhoni;s captaincy. There was a time when India did not have fast bowlers and Indian Captains preferred spinning tracks and also afraid of visiting fast bowlers even in Indian wickets. To day the situation is totally different. You have a bunch of fast bowlers capable of speeds of 140 & 150 kms and why Dhoni wants only spinning tracks. Such tracks blunt not only the effectiveness of opposing fast bowlers but also kills potential of Indian fast bowling talent. Why Dhoni does not have any vision nor any long term view of Indian Cricket. Is he afraid of opposing fast bowlers and the need to protect his batsmen against genuine pace? It is a very myopic view of preparing turning pitches because we are not good enough on normal Indian wickets. But I believe, India is good enough but not under Dhoni's uninspiring leadership.

  • Adesh on December 1, 2012, 10:02 GMT

    Without taking away a good show that England put up in Mumbai I think the fulcrum goes down in India's poor mentality rather than England's good character....i remember watching how India used to humiliate Australia in Indian conditions not few years would almost feel a sense of fear when the Indians played in india..but unfortunately the case is very different now..its almost like the hunger is gone,if a comparison is to be made between this indian team and the team that completely demoralized the aussies back then i bet that the former team would have completely humiliated the brits in mumbai...even though players are literally the same the attitude point is since the world cup indian team has really fallen behind in their will-power to win..its like "the ultimate target's been achieved(of being no.1 and world champions of course)there's nothing more to gain"......india needs to set a target for them soon or they are staring down the barrel this winter

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