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 sourced..you 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!