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When India ascended to number one, they did so without any favours done to them. It is important to understand that because a good team doesn’t become bad overnight and this is, by any measurement yardstick, a quality team. But having reached the summit, India needed to distance themselves from the opposition; it is part of the aura you create as number one. To do that India needed to prepare well, give themselves the best possible chance of staying ahead. They didn’t. They were made to turn up and get into a contest against a well prepared team in home conditions. It wasn’t the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last. India like to fill time, every available moment, rather than leave breathing space. In doing so they give themselves the worst possible chance of making an early impact. And so, it is my argument that India have done well in the past in spite of shoddy preparation. It is not a new argument, some of us have been shouting about it from the rooftops but it merits another look.
In the last four years India have had three tough away series. Against Australia in 2007-08, the captain Anil Kumble asked for three warm up games, was told in no uncertain terms that he would get no more than one. As it turns out that was washed out with scarcely any cricket played and India went to the Boxing Day Test with the baggage tags still on their kit bags. They were bowled out for 196 and 161 and lost by 337 runs. (As an interesting sidelight, Rahul Dravid was pushed up to open the batting).
India then went to South Africa in December 2010 without a single first class match behind them even though much was made of sending players early for acclimatisation. They were bowled out for 136 and lost by an innings in spite of a tremendous second innings performance.
On each of those tours India came back to score landmark wins leading to the irritatingly unwelcome tag of a team that starts slowly and fights back. A fightback can be over-glamourised, especially if it can be avoided with better planning. The wins at both Perth in 2008 and Durban in 2010 showed how good India could be but weren’t always allowed to be by the people who scheduled their tours; people who were meant to be on their side.
Both those results suggested that if India were to play two or three games before their first Test, the players were good enough to win overseas. You would have thought that if India were serious about staying number one, they would learn from that. But India steadfastly chose not to; it is like knowing that paracetamol will bring down your child’s temperature but choosing not to administer it.
Interestingly, India are better placed than anyone else to get the best possible schedules. Being the dominant figure in the ICC would allow India to get what they want to remain number one. Instead we flex our muscles over appointments and decision review systems. India could have got the calendar they wanted in England and South Africa but clearly that wasn’t priority. Often you get what you deserve but you also get what you genuinely want. India’s players have the ability to stay number one but India’s administration doesn’t have the drive to be number one on the field.
By the way, nothing is going to change. The Champions League is neatly sandwiched between this series and the one-dayers against England. There are then, 56 days before the Boxing Day test against Australia. You would want India to get there 15 days earlier to play two games. That leaves 40 days in which to play 3 Tests and 5 one-day internationals against the West Indies at home. You need a minimum of 37 days, packed back-to-back to achieve that.
Great organisations manage their brands very well; they nurture them like they would their children, they give them the best possible chance of success. Great brands make quality non-negotiable and then manage profitability. If you do it the other way around, you allow quality to slip. Profitability at the expense of quality is always a short term measure.
And so, that quite simply is it. You reap as you sow. India could still come back in this series, for this is a quality side, but if they do, it will be in spite of what those that are meant to nurture them have allowed.