When the lions' roar was silenced

The England Lions came for the Duleep Trophy 2008 with a support staff of eight members — David Parsons (designated Performance Director and head coach), Kevin Shine (Performance Analyst/bowling coach), David Houghton (batting coach), Sam Bradley (conditioning coach), Dr. Guy Jackson (manager), Craig Ranson (physio), Andrew McMahon (team doctor) and Mark Ward (media relations). The 15-member England Lions squad was led by the England ODI player Michael Yardy. The team also had some known faces in Monty Panesar, Liam Plunkett and James Foster.

West Zone’s nine-wicket victory cut short the Lions’ ambition of figuring in the Duleep Trophy final. It was a humbling experience for the English team whose hopes were high following its crushing five-wicket victory over Central Zone earlier.

The England Lions’ support staff and players went home enriched by their experience in India. Ajinkya Rahane, 20, making his Duleep Trophy debut for West Zone, showed the Lions the value of patience in building an innings with a stroke-filled 171 (400 minutes, 26 boundaries).

“From whatever I saw, he appears to be a fine talent,” said Yardy of the Mumbai lad, whose judgment of line and length against the English seamers was impeccable.

Off-spinner Yusuf Pathan (5-35), playing on his home turf at the Motibaug ground, Baroda, exposed the Lions’ weakness against spin on a turning track to set up victory for West Zone.

“He bowled with a lot of power and whenever the ball turned viciously, our batsmen were in trouble,” noted the Lions skipper.

Yardy revealed that before coming to India, Pakistan leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed had been consulted on how to tackle spin on Indian wickets. Yardy and Mushtaq are team-mates at Sussex.

The Pakistani’s tips didn’t work against Yusuf Pathan, who bowled fast off-breaks, or the wily left-arm spinner Rakesh Dhruv, who claimed 3-53 in the first innings.

The England Lions players, supposed to be comfortable against swing, were faced with more questions after West Zone’s new ball bowler Ashraf Makda (3-61) lopped off the top-order on day two and Siddharth Trivedi (4-28) exploited the uneven bounce on day four. “The local bowlers knew the conditions better, put the ball in the right areas,” Yardy reasoned out.

Yardy’s batting had both style and substance. For a player bred on English wickets, the Lions skipper played with soft hands and appeared comfortable with his wristy stroke-play.

Ed Joyce’s defiance at the crease was one of the positives for the visiting team. Batting coach Houghton and bowling coach Shine will have plenty of work to do in preparing future English teams to handle Indian conditions.

The Lions’ defeat to West Zone also underlined the English team’s inability to adapt to Indian wickets in varied weather conditions. A week after posting a comfortable victory against Central Zone at the Motibaug ground, where the visiting team was in full cry on a strip offering uncharacteristic movement and bounce amidst cool conditions, the Lions found themselves in a corner against West at the same venue. This time the wicket was slower and drier due to the heat. “If the lively wicket for the first match took us by surprise, the second one was a type of track we expected,” noted Yardy.

Andrew Flintoff, recovering from an ankle surgery, flew down to speed up his rehabilitation with the ECB coaching staff during the match against West Zone.

Media relations is one area where the Lions scored. Mark Ward co-ordinated with the player who was to address the media at stumps on each day and he also monitored the question time. West Zone’s approach, on the other hand, was defensive, even in victory. Yusuf Pathan, in his hour of glory at the Motibaug ground, said he needed the team manager’s permission to talk to the media.

However, the team manager, Atul Bedade, said the off-spinner did not want to talk to the media. Parthiv Patel, the West Zone captain, spoke but the off-spinner remained elusive.

Training the domestic players in media relations will be beneficial to them in the long-term when they graduate to the international arena.