While preparing for one of his motivational speeches to his champion team, high on a winning spree of 15 tests, Stephen Rodger Waugh inadvertently coined the term ‘final frontier’. The Aussies couldn’t conquer India in THAT 2001 series, but Waugh’s legendary teammates returned, to fulfill his dream, three years later. What ‘Tugga’ wouldn’t have dreamt was that his coined term would live to survive a decade; more abused than used.
Flipping through the current news reports, it seems the series in England is set to be the battle to conquer the ‘final frontier’ of Test cricket. Four nations will have something to say on this, including India! For a mere change of baton (No.1 ranking), doesn’t justify final frontier billing.
Personally, I can’t wait for the umpire to shout ‘play’ on the hallowed turf of Lords, come Thursday. An opener, which as days go by, am convinced, was planned in advance by BCCI and ECB to make it mother of all blockbusters. Nothing wrong with it – Test cricket needs more such steroids.
The numbers popping up are increasing the glow on the halo of the occasion. The 100th Test between two bitter rivals; 2000th Test overall; a ‘Greatest All Time XI’ selected which unsurprisingly has four Indians in it and no Englishmen – it was an online poll! The cherry on the Lord’s occasion is in anticipation that cricket’s lord (need I say who) will score a ton of tons. A cola giant has gone ahead ordering 6.5 million cans to commemorate the landmark achievement, whenever it comes.
So how will the lord and his mates react to this momentous occasion, especially without the most destructive Test batsmen around?
For major part of last century, India has been poor travellers outside the subcontinent. While the current numero uno team has managed to erase that blot, the blues still have major issues kick-starting their bikes. Even over the impressive last decade, India have lost the first Test of a tough series more often than they have saved it – and do note we are only referring to only ‘tough’ series; so with all apologies, SL/Eng/NZ/Pak at home and WI/Zim/Bang at home or away, have not been considered. The opening loss list runs:
vs England – Lord’s 2002
vs NZ – Wellington 2002
vs Aus – Bangalore 2004, Melbourne 2007
vs SL – Colombo 2008, Galle 2010En
vs SA – Nagpur 2010, Centurion 2010
These early reverses always prevented India from winning any of those series, and in majority of the games, it was poor cricket over the first two days that cost the match. While the scheduling (read: lack of practice matches, adequate rest periods, arriving early to acclimatize) provided by BCCI could serve as a reason in few of those instances, we know if there is any point when the team is at its most vulnerable, it’s the opening days of the first Test.
It is here we need the lord to rise to the occasion and achieve his landmark, now that in Veeru’s absence we will lack the first knockout punches. There will be pressure on Sachin when he comes to bat, something which his broad shoulders have got immune to one, but if he can help us pass the Lord’s examination (not necessarily the way Dhoni did it last time there), India will be tough to beat and odds will rise significantly in their favour. Team India always end every series on a high note.
The likely team composition doesn’t warrant any discussions or debates. Praveen’s teasing swing, nagging length and ability to leak less runs, unlike Sreesanth, will see him take the field at Lord’s. Ishant seems to have peaked at the right time and we will need to back Mukund’s patience at the crease to give us strong starts.
The series will be bitterly contested with two battle-hardened teams – one doesn’t want to let their reign over cricket slip, other stands pretender to the throne. If England beat India, their paparazzi and cricket experts will leave no stone unturned to rub it into the Indians, to BCCI and its role. This is England’s best chance to make the biggest claim and for them, lot is at stake. Expect an ill-tempered series – loads of sledging, display of poor sportsman spirit (remember jelly beans 2006?) and making the match referee earn his salary.
Best of luck Team India, strike early and strike hard!