An England victory is on the cards

2011-07-30 00:00

IF India have the slightest interest in retaining their top position in the rankings they need to start taking Test cricket seriously. Certainly they cannot keep making the same mistakes and expect different results. Within a week England may well have grabbed top spot, and deservedly so because they have worked hard, prepared well and given the five-day game its due.

India have made three blunders in the last few seasons and have not learnt from any of them. Four years ago they arrived in Australia, played a humdrum three-day match on a club ground in Melbourne and then took on the prime of Australia in the Boxing Day Test.

Defeat was inevitable, especially as Virender Sehwag had been dropped.

Acrimony followed in the ensuing SCG Test and that distracted attention from another unnecessary defeat.

In fact, the Indians had been their own worst enemies.

More recently they sent a weakened team to the West Indies. Bear in mind it was not another forgettable ODI series, but a Test series against one of the game’s powerhouses, albeit one currently in decline. Several top players were rested, a strategy that insulted the hosts and Test cricket in equal measure.

To make matters worse the rested players had taken part in the fourth edition of IPL. No one then spoke about breaks. Nor did they focus on forthcoming tours to the Caribbean and England, or the primacy of Test cricket, or the supposed pride that India had finally attained that status.

None of these things seem to matter. They seemed more interested in bangles and beads.

In case anyone has forgotten, the IPL is a footling domestic tournament full of dancing girls, full tosses and sixes struck over shortened boundaries. It’s a joke that is, apparently, wearing thin. Yet it was regarded as more important than a Test series against West Indies. Have the chickens come home to roost?

India promptly repeated their Australian folly by arriving in England a fortnight too late, playing a routine match against a county side that did its utmost to deny them time at the crease, and then went to Lord’s to take part in the 2 000th Test match.

It was a memorable occasion and England rose to it. Among the visitors only Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Ishant Sharma performed to the expected standard. Dravid again proved his worth with a typically resourceful hundred. Twice Laxman looked like he might take the fight into the enemy camp. Sharma unleashed the spell of the contest, but lacked support.

That these combatants stood head and shoulders above their comrades was perhaps predictable because they were also the team’s best players in the Caribbean. Their games and minds had been sharpened for battle. The rest looked rusty, even amateurish, especially in the field. It was not the stuff of champions.

Afterwards Mahendra Singh Dhoni complained that his team had been unlucky. And it’s true, Zaheer’s injury was a cruel blow, Sachin Tendulkar was sick and Gautam Gambhir was forced from the field. Some decisions also went against the visitors, though losing sides tend to overlook the ones that go their way. And England would have been hard to beat anyhow.

As a rule, though, fortune favours the better prepared outfit. India suffered setbacks because their players were not match fit. The fielding was sloppy for the same reason.

In the past India have been able to rally after losing the first match of a series. Notoriously slow starters, they usually improve as the series goes along. But that might not happen this time.

Andrew Strauss’ team looks red-hot and hungry. England have not been the top team since 1956 when Frank Tyson and Jim Laker were taking wickets, and Len Hutton was scoring runs in his meticulous manner. Motivation is high.

Contrastingly the Indians look lazy and loose. Admittedly it only takes one mighty thrust from a superb player to change the mood, and India fields some of the most accomplished cricketers the game has known.

Yet the gap between the sides is substantial and the visitors only had a few days to shake off their lethargy.

Dhoni himself needs to wake up because his keeping was poor and his captaincy was lamentable.

But an “English” victory is more likely and might not be a bad thing.

After all, they put Test cricket first and can be relied upon to advance its cause more enthusiastically.

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