Do you, Team India, really like playing Tests?

After a 3-1 drubbing at the hands of England, questions have been raised about India's Test match performances.

Written by Harsha Bhogle | Updated: September 5, 2014 10:15 am
Kohli made just 134 runs in 10 innings in Test series in England. (Source: AP) Kohli made just 134 runs in 10 innings in Test series in England. (Source: AP)

I have been intrigued by this summer of cricket in England. Two teams, going head to head for over two months, in two forms of the game, and throwing up such utterly contrasting results. After a heartwarming win at Lords, India’s young side toppled over the cliff never to be seen again. And England, inspired surely by that amazing turnaround, never really turned up for the one-day games. So why were India so defensive after winning? And why did England look so completely defanged?

And then a tweet arrived that made me sit up and take notice. It didn’t come from a cricket analyst or a commentator or an administrator. Shyam Balasubramaniam is a sports loving marketing professional and he said “If there is anything to take from this India vs England season it is that people will tend to be good at things they like doing”. Do you need to like something then to be good at it? And if you needed to do something because it was…well important, could you be good at it even if you didn’t actually like it? Is that why I was better than anyone else at university at fielding and worse than everyone else at management accounting? Is that why my room is in a mess but my clothes are well-ironed?

So could you say that India aren’t that good at Test cricket overseas because they don’t really like it? Is the real reason England were woeful at one-day cricket the fact that anything other than Test cricket tends to be looked down upon? That they therefore, don’t like one day cricket? You will never find the answer to that and till my mythical truth serum remains just that, you won’t be able to force the answer out either. But you could take an educated guess!

If you tell India they don’t like Test cricket, they will point out the fact that they play as much Test cricket as anyone else (another seven before the World Cup and five have just gone), that they organise four day ‘A’ tour games in Australia in the off-season, that they have a hectic Ranji Trophy schedule from where the Test players are can’t win that argument. And players will say the right things too. I was very impressed when Virat Kohli told me that his man of the match award from the Johannesburg Test takes pride of place amongst all the other one-day awards he has got.

Which leads us to a rather more subtle distinction. Maybe they want to do well, maybe India want to become a Test cricket super power, maybe the youngsters really want to be good Test cricketers overseas but…do they like playing it?

England play a lot of one-day cricket, there is a lot of it on the sports channels. They are only playing one-day cricket from mid-August to mid-March. I am sure they want to win more one-day matches, they want to rise up the rankings. And of course, they want to win the World Cup, they’ve never won it before! They spend a lot of time planning for it. But do they like playing it?

And so there is no evidence to that hypothesis, there never will be. But I am going to stick my neck out and say that Shyam is absolutely right. I don’t think, deep down, India and Dhoni like playing Test cricket as much. At Southampton, and that is only one example, India let the game drift along bowling defensive, non-wicket taking lines for a major part. When wickets appeared distant, and that always happens at some point in a Test match, India seemed willing passengers on the tide. Yes, Dhoni tried but Dhoni the one-day captain would have been here, there and everywhere, sniffing an opportunity here, grabbing ten minutes of the game there. Dhoni likes one-day cricket and you can see that in everything he does.

Does Alastair Cook like one-day cricket? Do Mumbaikars like the local trains? Do hostel students like the food in the mess? Clearly England don’t like one-day cricket, their own version of the caste system is displayed like a flag atop a building, there for everyone to see. And if Cook likes one-day cricket, he wouldn’t make such a secret of it. He probably wants to win it as much, he wants to do well at it too but does he like it?

So that, in a nutshell, is the story of this strange summer. Both teams wanted to win both forms but each liked playing one form more than the other. Maybe that is why they were better at one than they were at the other. Trust a marketing man to go very quickly to the root of the issue. People tend to be good at things they like doing. And therefore, aren’t very good at things they don’t really like doing!

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  1. J
    Sep 8, 2014 at 2:54 am
    Harsha - While you normally hit the nail on the head on most of your analysis, I believe you may be looking at this particular problem upside down. I can't talk about England and ODI cricket, but in case of India and Test cricket, they don't 'appear' to like it only when they lose badly. I believe it is very naive to state that people are good at things they like doing. Bangladesh love T20 cricket, they love to play at home but did that make their performance in T20 world cup any better than how it would have been otherwise? So let's not undermine the importance of skills and talent in certain conditions like Sanjay M is taking pains to clarify. This Indian team does not have the right skills in consistently succeed in conditions like Southampton, Oval and Manchester. Lord's was tough too, but it was a combination of Indian team playing out of their skin and England playing poorly which helped them win.Three specific examples I'd like to bring up to disprove the so called 'like' theory - Look at how Dhoni handled himself in the Lord's test 5th day. He took complete and active control, convinced his fast bowlers to reluctantly bowl bouncers and showed as much pion as you can expect from a man of his personality.... How did the 'like' exist then and suddenly vanish 2 weeks later? Second point to note - Pujara plays only test matches and he 'likes' test cricket a lot based on what you hear from the sports circles. How come his performance over the last 2 or 3 test matches was equally poor as his other peers? Finally, in South Africa and New Zealand recently, Indian performance in tests was far better than their ODI performance (both by the score-lines as well as the actual quality of play). Did they like test cricket and dislike ODI cricket then, Harsha?I think people are jumping to conclusions based on the way we meekly lost the last 3 test matches, but skills, tactics and personnel were more to blame than liking or lack of interest...
    1. P
      Sep 6, 2014 at 9:29 am
      U r re-confirming the already known truth Harsha... But the blame should start with the captain dhoni , for he is the one who must enjoy test cricket more than anyone else and pick the team members who have the same pion...the best example would be Ganguly , who made this same indian team more compeive overseas with just his sheer pion and will... If Dhone doesn't have the pion and it is evident that he's not , then sack him in tests and ask some one to captain in tests who's pride and pion for tests...CheersPracash
      1. G
        Geoffrey Anthony
        Sep 7, 2014 at 8:38 am
        What, the "nonsense" that is the reason why international cricket ever exists? Don't play tests by all means, in 10 years the w country will be begging us to be let back in. Cricket without tests means nothing to anyone.
        1. J
          Sep 5, 2014 at 6:33 pm
          I think these teams give the impression they don't love it or care for it while they are terrible at soon as some results go their way and they reach the top they'll start uttering the usual adages of "Test cricket is the pinnacle" etc and "We invented ODI cricket in England and winning the WC is the summit" and so on and so forth. This has nothing to do with recognizing the format or loving it, its just a case of sour grapes.
          1. A
            Sep 23, 2014 at 3:27 pm
            Your examples are off the mark, though a good argument. Pujara has had this one bad series out of the many he's been part off. Dhoni's captaincy in Lord's were an one-off. Out of the many series and tests we lost meekly, this was an inspired period of play and poor batting from england.. or poor batting inspired by good captaincy.. either way. Bangladesh just don't have the personnel.. no chance of taking them as an example. Dhoni the batsman can hold his head high. Keeper and batsman at test level over the many series he has seen abjectly surrendered to the opposition, i think Harsha's argument is very valid. And again, as you pointed out rightly, talent disposition is very important. But India is not losing for the lack of talent. We are losing because if we are not in winning positions, the captaincy is listless. If we are in winning positions, he ticks like a clock.
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