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“But the cricket was terrible,” everyone tells me. From visitors in the lobby of the St James’ Court to students who had spent well saved money and braved the weather to follow India to expatriate Indians who get to support “their” side once every few years. They shake their heads, like only we can, and go on and on about the “terrible cricket”. I disagree. The result, if you were an India fan, was terrible but the cricket wasn’t. There was another team too and England played better cricket than I have seen in the years I have been following this game.
England didn’t just outplay India, they outplanned India. And there is a lesson there. In our part of the world, instinct rules; whether we are driving, getting into a train or flicking late, backward of square. It is an instinct that is honed by working in systems that are not always perfect; without an instinct for survival, we will be crushed under. There is a counter argument that if all systems are perfect it kills initiative; that people become dependent and sluggish. But like with all arguments the perfect place to be at is somewhere in between. In pockets of stability, under Wright and Ganguly and under Kirsten and Dhoni, India experienced it but because whatever was right wasn’t institutionalised — or maybe, (blasphemy!) it was only an accidental coming together of a group of people — India were always going to be inconsistent.
Over the last eighteen months England have found that spot. They took time getting there for the seed was sown under Fletcher and Hussain. But by creating legislation to put the England cricket team first and all else second, and by having strong, successful people in charge, England have embarked on a path that is likely to serve them well for a while. Many challenges remain, playing on the sub-continent for example, but the intent is there and I have often said that when intent is genuine, everything else follows. This is not an England that can sweep all around them with extraordinary ability. There is, in this team, no Hayden, no Ponting, no Gilchrist, no Warne and no McGrath. Yes there is a Cook, a Pietersen and a Bell, a Swann and an Anderson but it isn’t yet the same thing. England have won on the back of strong preparation and strong work ethic and as India prepares to let a fine generation go, they too must learn to do that.
Indeed India can react to this defeat in different ways. One is to assume that nothing has happened and continue along which would be a bit like the approach to food rotting in our warehouses. Just let it be. It’s not an unpopular approach. A second way would be to prepare turners in October and hope all is forgotten. It might win India the one-day series but it will only make the players better at what they are already good at, and no better at what they aren’t particularly good at. India would learn nothing from that approach.
Instead India could start an aggressive exercise aimed at improving a very promising lot of batsmen and finding some bowlers. But who will be the teachers and who will be the scouts? Whose job will it be to revive Irfan Pathan and take RP Singh and Sreesanth to the next level? It can’t be the bowling coach because he will be with the national team. Who will teach Virat Kohli how to score runs at the next level, who will work with Ajinkya Rahane and Abhinav Mukund? I do not fear for talent in Indian cricket, I fear for the teachers who have to mould that talent. Have you seen any? Is there the intent?
But while we debate that, and we must, we must also congratulate England. True they played at home but they have begun to show solidity and a love for detail; at last they have begun to do with cricket what they did with roads, railways and buildings. Now, will it last as long as those have?