Straight from Korma to Vindaloo: Sehwag and his chums arrive a little undercooked

2010-12-18 00:00

INDIA’S preparation for the match under way at Centurion was threadbare. No sooner had a one-day and Test series against New Zealand been completed than the top players were packed on to a plane and sent to a distant continent full of hostile creatures, some of them able to aim cricket balls at their bodies and stumps with the venom associated with the more intolerant snakes. A couple of nets, a few days to get over jet lag and let battle commence.

In the old days — and yes I know they were also full of children cleaning chimneys and going barefoot (come to think of it, these have not exactly been abolished) — touring teams gave themselves weeks to get used to local conditions. Different balls are used and the light can vary — it’s exceptionally bright in Australia (which in some opinions cannot be said of the inhabitants).

Even in these homogenous days of Coca-Cola and jeans (Indians wear the best clothes, but no one has noticed yet) pitches vary a heck of a lot around the world. Some keep low and take their time in the manner of an aged tortoise. Others hop around like kangaroos after a third cordial. All sorts of skills are required to combat these variations.

Batsmen need to take these things into account as they consider their back lifts, shot selection and even the weights of their willows, and especially their famed sweet spots. After all it’s no use wearing a fur coat in a hot country. Admittedly the Indian batsmen are experienced, but they are also human and it is hard to change overnight.

The Kiwi bowlers and Indian tracks were mild compared with the stuff likely to be served up this summer. Virender Sehwag and chums are going straight from korma to vindaloo.

Bowlers need to adjust their lengths and strategies. Of course, these things are talked about by the vast army of advisers who nowadays accompany cricket teams — anyone thinking monarchs are overstaffed ought to take a look at national cricket outfits. But flingers also need to attune themselves and that takes time. Even the texture of the grass changes from country to country and that affects run-ups. By the way, it is only upon taking up their activity that realisation dawns that the bowlers are not, as had been long supposed, a bunch of prima donnas.

By arriving a few days before the start of the campaign, the Indians have reduced their chances of toppling their hosts. They are not playing a bunch of ne’er-do-wells but the second-ranked side in the world, and a team eager for an execution. Moreover, the sides are competing for the title recently vacated by an Australia line-up that had ruled for 15 years and is now suffering a partial eclipse.

India made the same mistake on their last trip Down Under. They arrived in Melbourne, played a rain-affected three-day match against a motley collection of Victorians and then took on the Aussies in the Boxing Day Test. It was madness. Inevitably, the Indians were eaten for breakfast and a week later the series was lost in contentious circumstances in Sydney. Thereafter, India confirmed that they were the stronger side by winning in Perth and taking the one-day cup. But by then the damage had been done.

In contrast, England left no stone unturned as they planned their current Ashes campaign. Far from arriving with a grimace and in a dither they turned up several weeks before the first Test, played three rugged warm-up matches and went to Brisbane on top of their games. Meanwhile, Ricky Ponting’s mob were running around like headless chickens. The outcome was inevitable. A talented team might overcome poor preparation for a while but eventually the shallowness is exposed. Now the Australians are playing catch-up.

Regardless of results, South Africans ought to cherish the sight of this Indian team. Several of their greatest players will never come this way again. In many opinions, Virender Sehwag is the most brilliant attacking opener in cricketing history. Certainly he scores at a substantially faster rate than any rival past or present (85 runs per 100 balls to Sanath Jayasuriya’s 64). Nor is it merely crash, bang, wallop. He keeps his head still and attacks with calculation and saves his best innings for the great occasions. He has scored stunning hundreds on Boxing Day and in a World Cup final. Rahul Dravid is an impeccable craftsman and a man of integrity, while Sachin Tendulkar is arguably the most accomplished batsman to appear since Don Bradman.

Treasure them. They might have arrived late but they are giants of the genre.

• Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent based in Pietermaritzburg.


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