So much water has flown between the second and third tests that it comes as a relief that cricket, the sport, will finally take place at Edgbaston.
The humiliation at Trent Bridge started the ten days of non-stop bad news. Cricket fans of Indian origin at Nottingham reacted as most Indians fans do – immaturely, with protests and burning of posters. Back at home, news channels and their experts have added further fuel since.
Soon after, Viru landed, just as, Gauti was declared fit. Jai and Veeru had finally arrived for Thakur – it can only be MSD, with both his hands inactive in front or behind the stumps. To make things look even better, word was out that Zaheer will play the side game.
It was indeed a side game; with Northants not even fielding their A team. Jai-Veeru struggled and to add to the confusion, Abhinav Mukund saw three digits against his name; after barely reaching single digits in any of his last three test outings.
MSD struggled, the team struggled, Zaheer struggled and was ruled out of the third test. Then Thakur’s boss BCCI included him in India’s ODI squad to face England. Only to be later declared unfit for next four months! It’s safe to assume Thakur’s boss can’t be anyone other than Rahim Chacha (AK Hangal)!
In between, just before Wall Street collapsed, our “The Wall” was reinstated, much to his own amusement. So as to make his amusement clear, soon after, he announced his retirement from ODIs and T20s after English summer! Dravid’s inclusion means he won’t be squatting flies, Rohit Sharma will be. It won’t amuse him or the Vijays, the Dhawans and the Saurabh Tiwarys – all of whom have debuted for India in 2010 and now know the confidence the selectors have in them.
Or on the string of pacers who have played an odd test or ODI for India in the past couple of years – Tyagi, Mithun, Vinay, Yadav, Dinda, Unadkat, Pankaj Singh. None of them did much to merit selection, nor did anything worthy to remain in team, nor performed below initial expectations to be ejected to oblivion, nor were given a path to get groomed.
The only common link between these players is that they were ‘gifted’ an India cap for playing and doing well in daddy BCCI’s backyard tournament, the IPL. And so, Zaheer’s replacement is RP Singh, last played a test match in 2008, last played a first class game six months ago and had a noticeable unfit ‘paunchy’ look in IPL. This despite, world cup medal winner Ashish Nehra submitting a fitness certificate, and one Irfan Pathan still being around.
And you wonder, are we overestimating Zaheer’s absence? What about our pacers who reduced England to 124/8 two weeks ago? Had there been a fourth pacer playing, instead of an underperforming spinner, that game could have ended differently. World cricket is so stuck with conservative captains, that team selection merely follows a set pattern. In pitches where the world best spinner is struggling, it defies logic what a lacklustre Bhajji was doing in the playing XI, time and again. Was the spinner there only for controlling the over rate? If it was, well, two negatives make a positive only in mathematical theory, not in real life.
As if the above confusion wasn’t enough, to add to the masala, the unfortunate London riots affected the team’s practice sessions; they continue to be a threat to the Test match; rains are likely to play a part in the game; Ravi Shastri and Sunny Gavakar hit the news for all wrong reasons; Ian Botham and Graeme Swann have hit the ‘4-0 prediction nail’ right on its head for the right reasons.
India’s No. 1 ranking is in grave danger and for most Indians that remains the only symbol of our progressiveness – understandable for a country whose daily news is filled with talk of scams, corruption, inflation, petrol prices, delays, train accidents and bomb blasts. If India indeed lose this series 4-0, much hell will break loose.
At England 2011, India played three innings with three bowlers and a makeshift batting line up. If memory fails me, New Zealand 2002 was the last time India returned back from an overseas series not winning a single test match. And this enviable record stood despite the usual injuries and madness which plagues Indian cricket.
Hence, the stats favour India winning at least one test in the series. Their original batting lineup is back and its time they got Munaf added to their pace battery. The pitches so far have not at all assisted spin and neither has Mishra done anything of note in side games on in WI tests to merit an inclusion. So too goes for MSD – a better wicketkeeper in Saha, and a more responsible captain Gauti in the park. But can India be so imaginative?
If India need inspiration for Edgbaston, they need to look no further than their Perth examination of 2008. There are lots of parallels. They were 2-0 down, with non cricketing events making more headlines than cricket; chaos and commotion ruled the roost; there was doubt whether the test match would take place; there was excess chatter on the nature and history of the wicket; Sehwag made his comeback into that test after much debate, ditto for Irfan; and Zaheer was out of that series, two tests ago. A ‘work in progress’ pace attack of Irfan Pathan, R P Singh and Ishant Sharma made their presence so felt, that, although Australia won the test series 2-1, India finished with spring on their steps and carried the momentum to winning the ODI tri series – their first ever in Australia.