Duncan Fletcher stationed himself behind the nets in one corner of the MCC Cricket Academy ground at Lord’s, keeping one eye on Stuart Binny and another on Ajinka Rahane batting on adjacent strips.
At the other end of the ground Trevor Penney took slip-fielding classes, where Suresh Raina dropped the first edge that came his way. And among those skipping Wednesday’s practice session were MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli.
If you were off newspapers, TV or social media for the last three days, this sight would have come across to you as a usual India training session. But on the back of the upheavals in the team set-up since the Oval Test ended prematurely on Sunday, a usual practice session is a most unusual thing.
Adding to the intrigue was Ravi Shastri’s (the side’s newly appointed boss) absence. It could be argued that it was a practice session for a practice match (versus Middlesex on Saturday) and the series opener is still four days away. Therefore it perhaps didn’t merit a full blooded, all-hands-on-deck kind of training session.
It could further be reasoned that fifty-over cricket, though technically the same ball-game, is certainly played on a different ballpark. This is India’s territory, no matter where they are playing. Even here in England — especially in England, for here they have won big and won often. Their last major triumph came on these shores when they lifted the Champions Trophy at Edgbaston, Birmingham, last June.
Difference a year makes
Back then, India looked on track to retain the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, which was then two years away. But since their memorable duel in the rain with England (though that was essentially a T20), the perception that India play better in ODIs than they do in Tests has been challenged.
They have lost two away series, both comprehensively in South Africa late last year and then in New Zealand. They also lost the Asia Cup to Pakistan in more favorable environs of Bangladesh (though, it could be argued that the conditions favored Pakistan as well). The point is this: India have few results since the Champions Trophy to back their reputation of the big silverback gorilla of the 50-overs format.
What makes it even harder for Dhoni & Co is the morale-sapping losses in the Tests and the massive momentum shift in England’s favour. It’s not quite unlike how it was during the last tour of England in 2011. Then as now, they came into the limited-overs series on the back of debilitating Test defeats. They did put up a fight in the ODIs, but still remained winless.
To pick themselves up, therefore, will need a monumental effort. Only, there was no evidence of it during the nets session on Wednesday.