England tour will be a challenge

India’s current skipper Virat Kohli struggled against the moving ball the last time he played in England in 2014 and so has taken the call to tune up for this year’s tour by spending time in England after the IPL — playing county cricket.

Virat Kohli walks away dejected after getting dismissed cheaply in the fourth Test against England at Old Trafford in 2014. Virat struggled against the moving ball on that tour.   -  AP

It’s been a real privilege to be in touch with the game and also earn from it through writing and television over the last 28 years. While the columns were there even while I was playing, the electronic media engagements began after retirement. It has not only given me a new profile, but it has also let me see how the game and the players have evolved. It’s a delight to see the new stars come on to the scene. Since each player has his own distinct style it’s always fascinating to see how each one tackles different match situations and playing conditions which keep changing over the years. Even the media has changed considerably in its approach as it tries to keep pace with the new likes and dislikes of its customers. Today there is also digital media, which is making inroads into all walks of life and bringing with it its own challenges.

The forthcoming tour of England by the Indian team is going to be a challenge, but one which has been overcome before. Way back in 1971, Ajit Wadekar’s team, of which I was honoured to be a member, beat England at The Oval cricket ground and, with it, won the series. India should have won that series 2-0 but for some ordinary English umpiring. That was part of the game then, where home advantage did not necessarily mean just the pitches, weather and home crowds but also help from the officials. While the subcontinent officials received the most flak, the reality was that umpiring was bad in all the countries, except that the overseas umpires were smarter when to ‘err’ and thus turn the game their team’s way. Now, of course, the umpires for Test matches are from countries other than the ones playing and so there is no longer the fear of the finger for players today. Being human, even these umpires can make genuine mistakes, but the players will accept these and move on and not make a song and dance about it like some overseas teams used to do when they toured the subcontinent.

With global warming, even the challenge of playing with a couple of sweaters has gone down. Apart from the odd day in England, New Zealand and sometimes in Melbourne, Australia, there is hardly any need for wearing additional clothing. Today, even in the month of June there is hardly a day when you see players with sweaters on. Way back, even in the month of August, teams, especially from the subcontinent, needed to wear long-sleeved jumpers.

‘Sticky dog’

The pitches, too, have changed considerably, and while it was hard to separate the playing pitch from the rest of the outfield, the pitches today can be seen clearly from afar by their off-white colours. Apart from my first tour of England in 1971 the rest of the trips to the nation have been on covered pitches, so the ‘sticky dog’ that characterised a rain-affected pitch is a thing of the distant past. How the Bradmans, Sobers’, Huttons, Merchants, Hazares and others scored on it tells you how great they were and how they married technique with temperament to score runs in those conditions.

India’s current skipper, Virat Kohli, struggled against the moving ball the last time he played in England in 2014 and so has taken the call to tune up for this year’s tour by spending time in England after the IPL — playing county cricket. The thinking behind it is to get as much practice against the moving ball in England before India’s tour starts.

It is a laudable effort and nobody can fault the thought process, although, of course, in cricket success is never guaranteed even with the best of preparation. What has caused dismay in the playing fraternity is that, while doing so, the Indian captain is going to miss playing a Test match for India. Afghanistan will be playing its first Test and could well turn out to be a pushover seeing that it doesn’t have much experience of the long format of the game. But should the Indian skipper have missed playing for his country by giving precedence to domestic cricket in another country is the big question.

There is near unanimity among all the IPL commentators, especially the overseas ones, that there is no way they would miss playing a Test match for their country just to get used to playing in another country. They also feel that apart from being disrespectful to the opposition, it does not set a good precedent.

Be that as it may, let’s hope for Indian cricket’s sake that all ends well, for it’s clear as the night follows the day that nobody will hold his/her hand up and accept responsibility if the move fails.