India tour of England: A different ball game

After a miserable sporting summer so far, England turn to faltering cricket team for succour.

Written by Sandeep Dwivedi | Nottingham | Updated: July 9, 2014 9:52:14 am
England skipper Alastair Cook (L) is under pressure to not only score runs but also lead his side to a series win (Source: Reuters) England skipper Alastair Cook (L) is under pressure to not only score runs but also lead his side to a series win (Source: Reuters)

You need to give it to the English. Astonishingly persistent, they never give up on their sporting stars.

It’s a nation that takes sports seriously but not the results. After the painful World Cup in Brazil, they headed to the Murray Mount at Wimbledon with hope.

There they shed a tear for their Scot, a couple for their Swiss and clapped for the champion from Serbia. Now they are fussing over their cricketers, who just last month had lost to the Sri Lankans.

While the entire world is talking football, on this small island called Trent Bridge, there are enough die-hards with cricketing concerns. Not Neymar’s fractured vertebra but Matt Prior’s suspected thigh strain was that token ‘injury worry’ that gets talked on match eve.

For once you didn’t hear speculations if Miroslav Klose would start for Germany, but there were guesses flying about Stuart Binny’s inclusion in the playing XI.

Though, by evening, England skipper Alastair Cook said the keeper was fit to play and his counterpart MS Dhoni had given more of a hint that the pace all-rounder will be part of India’s five-member bowling unit.

Not far from the main gate, down the Bridgford Road; bet shops, bars and brasseries have football on their televisions, their ‘odds charts’ and menus.

Punting £10 on Germany’s 3-1 win over Brazil can add £230 to your wallet. Across the road there was promise of a giant television and a free beer for every eight ordered. Not the best of deals, but still very popular.

Many of those availing that offer while watching the ‘last four’ clash from Brazil will wake up with a swimming mind. But on it will float thoughts of who will take the early advantage of the conditions at Trent Bridge.

To know the answer they will queue up much before the toss, nursing a hangover. As the pick-up truck unloads the beer kegs behind the new pavilion, you wonder if they are over-stocking for the opening day’s play. No they aren’t, say the locals with a sense of pride.

In this nation that loves several sports, and prefers to watch them with a pitcher in hand, cricket has its struggles. The game fights for attention with more globally recognised, but it gets it too.

But in this season of football fever, the Trent Bridge oval seems like the Gaulish village, with circular picket fences right in place, fighting the mighty Roman Empire that football is.

No magic portion 

To make things worse, the local dressing room doesn’t have in its ranks the men with the magic potion — Kevin Pietersen and Greame Swann.

For this long five-Test series, England will have to learn to live without two their most most-influential players, especially during recent India games, in case they want to pay back their ardent fans. And how they deal with this will decide the outcome of the series.

The couple that Indians feared the most aren’t part of England’s plans any more. How times have changed since the 2011 tour. Those foes have turned friends.

Pietersen, in his column on Tuesday, showered lavish praise on the young Indian side while Swann was to tweet how Rahul Dravid, his stage partner at a recent pre-series talk, was the nicest guy he has ever met.

Pietersen would go on to add how England will miss Swann. But not like the way Cook’s unit will miss KP.

The man who has been hogging the headlines without being a part of this series has had a big role in England’s last two series wins against India.

His 202 at Lord’s in the opening Test and his 186 in Mumbai, probably the best knock played by an Englishman in India ever, were match and series-turning efforts. They didn’t just pull his team out of crisis but demoralised India. With a batting approach that defied conventional or prescribed pattern of play, he had been a nightmare for Dhoni.

How do you set up a field for someone who would repeatedly play against spin, and even swing? Walking in the crease, taking risks and not letting the scoreboard dictate his style of play, he was a thorn that the Indians couldn’t pull out.

When nothing worked for them, they would just wait for him to make a mistake. His average of 58 against India is an indicator that he didn’t make many. What he did was he made Dhoni look bad.

One would expect that the missing stars from the last series – India too had Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag — might see the interest fade this time around.

But not around here, as a full house will troop in early on Wednesday hoping to see the emergence of new stars in this series. A hangover can’t make the English miss something that important. You need to give it to them.


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