Some of the earlier part of the morning was spent listening to BBC Radio 4’s commentary on Test Match cricket on my computer, while doing other things. The game in question was India versus England in Chennai, although as far as the series overall goes it was of little consequence as the series score was already standing at three-nil to India and the best England could hope for in this fifth and final match in the series was to draw the game. Checking out how things were going on waking up, I discovered to my delight that England had yet to lose a wicket and were all set to save the match.
This is what they should have done and what they failed to do, with India turning out, yet again, as winners, taking the overall series four-nil, and deservedly so. I have to confess I tend to listen to cricket when my side is doing well, for anything other might be construed as an act of masochism, but on the other hand I love the game of cricket and if played well, in the right spirit, I don’t care what the outcome is provided the best team wins, which is what happened this time. I tend also to be philosophical on the matter and ask questions like what can be done better. After all, it was not that long ago when pundits were saying England had a good side that could become a great one, the best side in the world even.
The writing was probably on the wall before England arrived in India. It had earlier been held to a drawn series by unfancied Bangladesh and were seen to be up against it facing a fancied India. While playing in unaccustomed Indian subcontinent conditions had something to do with it, there was more to it than that. After England managed to come out with a creditable draw following the First Test, hopes were raised, but then in the light of four successive Test defeats, hopes stand currently shattered. But then again, one can always learn, and there are often pluses to take away. One big plus for England is the discovery of two quality opening batters, set to plug that particular gap in the side for many years to come.
But what went wrong (for England) and right (for India), and what to expect in the future? Simply put, England was outplayed but also they were instruments of their own downfall. I sense they were not mentally right (for what is in the mind is where games are often won or lost, irrespective of ability, which England has in abundance). Other than lacking great talent in the spin bowling department, it was a well balanced side which on paper might be expected to perform. It was frustrating how the batters got themselves out on many occasions, when they could and should have hung in there and got better scores. In this game, it was simply a matter of staying in, which according to my mentor, Geoff Boycott, was eminently possible, but instead most batsmen got out by playing rash shots, particularly pertinent in the second innings with the pressure being piled. It may be the cricket played is ok for English conditions, but cricket is also about being adaptable. I hope the authorities will address the weaknesses on display and not dismiss it as a bad day at the office, yet I fear they won’t or do what if often done – change the captain when something more fundamental is needed.
While I believe England are blessed with good, excellent even, players, and have quality in depth among their batsmen and seam bowlers, and in particular are blessed with all rounders (only the spin bowling department is crying out for a player of the quality of Graham Swann), what this tour has shown is that what they have is not enough. While excuses can be made, like the strains of touring on the Indian sub-continent, the big area for improvement imho has to be in mental attitude, which includes having the resolution to being able to adapt to conditions and situations. I have no doubt England will bounce back strongly, especially when it comes to them playing in conditions they are used to, i.e. English, I will not be satisfied until they can perform in all types of conditions and overcome all opposition, and neither should the English team.
As an England cricket follower since my boyhood, I have dreamt of there being a great English team. While there have been great performances and great players over the years, I don’t reckon there have been great sides that have been able to demolish all oppositions over a period of years. Only the great West Indian and Australian sides of yesteryear have attained to those dizzy heights. Whether India can, is an open question. They have performed fantastically well and this in a period of rebuilding following the retirement of some of their great players. But they need to win against the likes of England and Australia, in English and Australian conditions before I will include them among the exalted company of these past greats. Like with football, the structure of the game internationally should make Test Cricket excellence a high priority.