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On the field England produced some magnificent cricket to win in India for the first time in 28 years, but there were also off-field factors at play
December 18, 2012
Thank you India. If England's players uttered it once after winning the Test series, they uttered it a thousand times. They took to Twitter to praise the boundless enthusiasm of the fans, they smiled at the crowds that came to greet them, they even faced the traffic jams with good grace.
But they might have been thanking them for something completely different because India's perceived strengths - a thrusting economy and overwhelming cricketing muscle - has triggered widespread changes that have made its team more vulnerable on the cricket field.
England did not just make it look as if they wanted to be in India, they knew they needed to be there. These days no international CV is complete without a successful tour of India. It is a must-have accessory for the fashionable and ambitious cricketer, a passport to potential riches, proof that they have performed in the centre of the cricketing world.
It is precisely this growing power and prestige that has now become as much of a weakness for India (as contradictory as it sounds) as the simple fact that the team is in transition. It is off the pitch as much as on it that the historical context of England's victory can be found.
India's economic growth is envied by many at a time of global stagnation. In the rarified world of the international cricketer, it has made it a more easeful place to be, a world of luxurious hotels, possessing a service culture second to none. Debilitating stomach ailments for the foreign tourist still occur, but they are not remotely as prevalent as they once were, and when they did strike, England had an army of doctors and nutritionists on hand to ensure recovery in the quickest possible time.
When there is the suggestion of a throwback to the old days - as Australia have proved this week by objecting to Kanpur as a venue for their forthcoming Test series because of the perceived quality of the dressing rooms and neighbouring hotels - India is now expected to deliver something better.
Alongside India's economic development - in fact, to a large extent, a direct result of it - comes India's financial domination of cricket. Does it produce 70% of cricket income? For all we know, it might be even more now. If those England thank-yous filter through to the owners of IPL franchises, they are not about to complain. Incentives to come to terms with India have never been stronger.
England has been largely ignored by the most lucrative domestic tournament in cricket. Only Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan are contracted to IPL clubs, and one whose career was heading that way, Stuart Broad, withdrew twice because of injury, and in his failure to prosper on Asian pitches he has done himself no favours. Others would love to follow, surmounting the fact that their involvement must be limited because of a clash with the English season.
This England victory, yes, has been a simple cricketing story about the composure and discipline of an impressive young captain, Alastair Cook; the flamboyance of Pietersen; the pugnacious team ethic of Matt Prior, a wicketkeeper-batsman at the height of his powers; the craft and tenacity of James Anderson in unhelpful conditions; and that rare thing in English cricket history, two world-class spin bowlers operating in tandem in Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann.
But it is also about Indian hubris, a decline in its standards of Test cricket borne of a pride in its gathering power. India's pride was once drawn from its rich history as one of the oldest civilisations in the world. Now it is just as likely to be drawn from its delight in its own modernity, which places emphasis on the financial appeal of the one-day game. In some hands at least this pride reveals itself in a more aggressive fashion. It is not an attitude that encourages faults to be found and lessons to be learned from others, but one that can bring a complacent belief in India's superiority.
|England did not just make it look as if they wanted to be in India, they knew they needed to be there. These days no international CV is complete without a successful tour of India. It is a must-have accessory for the fashionable and ambitious cricketer|
How else other than in terms of Indian presumption can you explain that England have just beaten a side with an inferior attitude to fitness and practice, or an Indian side with a coach, in Duncan Fletcher, whose authority is so compromised and who believes he should have no need to explain himself, via the media, to the public at large? India's fanatical cricket following deserves better.
Back in the day, India was regarded by many England cricketers as a tour to be endured before "normal life" could be resumed. This cultural challenge used to be one of India's strengths - automatically putting them one-up in the series before a ball had been bowled.
Many touring sides faltered for cricketing reasons, exposed on slow, dusty pitches, against great Indian batsmen and spin bowlers, but they also failed because they were debilitated by illness, fractious over travel delays, worn down by the bedlam of the cities and the absence of home comforts. Too many England players have regarded an India tour as an imposition. Too many England players failed to see the endless attractions. That way brings disaster.
To win in India used to be to rise above the malcontents. Woe betide the team that kicks against the culture, because as the weeks turn into months it will become weakened and ultimately defeated. Surrender to India's charms, and to flatter it in return, has always been one of the secrets of winning here. Tony Greig, tall, blond and extrovert, was immensely popular when he skippered England to victory in the mid-'70s, and when he needed a sidekick he won over the crowds (huge crowds, unimaginable by Cook and his victorious team-mates) by asking his resident clown, Derek Randall, to do a cartwheel on the outfield.
But you do not endure a tour to a country that is now the powerhouse of the game. You go with a happy heart because as an ambitious cricketer there is nowhere more important to your career, nowhere where your stature is so high, your achievements worshipped by so many. It was not for nothing that Cook, an England captain not given to excess, ranked the victory alongside the Ashes success in Australia.
England's players occasionally complained of boredom because they could not stroll around the cities in the same manner as they might do in Australia (although they would do well to try), but such grumbles should be kept in perspective. In their few leisure hours, they have their gymnasiums and swimming pools, their Xboxes and Premier League football on satellite TV, their Facebook and Twitter, their Skype calls home, their multi-cuisine restaurants. Homesickness was a more accurate description.
At least if they are reduced to a good book, they no longer have to read it by the light of a 40-watt bulb. A decent lightbulb was the first thing this correspondent was advised to pack in 1993 before watching Graham Gooch's England side hopelessly outplayed on a tour where chaos was a daily occurrence (an Indian Airlines strike caused such disruption that it would have been no surprise to see England travel by bullock cart), and where Gooch's choice of prawns in a Chinese restaurant on the eve of a Test became the most infamous meal in cricket history.Pitfalls lay everywhere.
Those days are history now. India has modernised - and England have just thanked them for it.
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