x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Body language smacks of disinterest from India cricketers

Heavy losses at Lord's and Trent Bridge, coupled with the body language, smack of disinterest on the part of the world's top-ranked cricket team to play over five days.

India’s vaunted batting line-up, including VVS Laxman, centre, have not done justice to their reputations in the way they have dealt with England’s bowling in the Test series so far.
India’s vaunted batting line-up, including VVS Laxman, centre, have not done justice to their reputations in the way they have dealt with England’s bowling in the Test series so far.

Not for the first time in history, conflict threatened to break out between India and England over tea this week.

These two nations often do a good line in animosity, and there has been a fair bit of it lingering around this Test series between them.

Not that virtually any of it has come from either of the current set of players, so far.

Most of the sparring has been done beyond the boundary. For example, Ravi Shastri, the former India player-turned-commentator, revealed a thinly veiled disdain for his hosts during the second Test match.

Replying to criticism of India's unwillingness to use technology to aid lbw decision-making in this series, Shastri said England just could not hack the fact India are world No 1, they have a rich board, a successful Twenty20 league, and are world champions.

"They can't stomach it because England have still to win a World Cup," he repeated later. "So nerr!" he did not add, but he might as well have done.

That raised the hackles of Nasser Hussain, the India-born former England captain, who took Shastri to task on air, then later in his newspaper column.

When a similar theme was repeated in an online falling out between two other former players, Michael Vaughan of England and India's Sanjay Manjrekar, it appeared the entente between these countries is not very cordial at all.

It is usually the job of such hired experts to frown and admonish puerile behaviour of the young players on the field, with all the knowingness of their years of experience, not the other way round.

But it was easy to imagine MS Dhoni and Andrew Strauss, the respective captains, looking up at their forebears in the various commentary boxes acting like competitive uncles, and sharing a collective sense of embarrassment.

"Oh no - there they go again," they might have been thinking. "Shall we just get on with playing this game?"

The spirit on the field has been so convivial, even Strauss has been taken aback. "He has set a great example to myself and other captains," the England captain said of Dhoni's decision to reinstate Ian Bell following his contentious run out at Trent Bridge.

It seems a shame to even think it, given how magnanimous a gesture it was, but the Bell incident vaguely added to the sense that India have just not really cared enough about winning so far during the meeting of Test cricket's leading sides.

For most of this series to date, the body language of the tourists has smacked of disinterest.

It feels as though they are just killing time while they wait for the limited-overs internationals, when they can really show their stuff. Which is unbecoming of the world's top-ranked Test side.

Granted, a few things have counted against them. They have been a different side without the injured Zaheer Khan, their best bowler, as well as Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, the openers.

England would have felt it, had they been deprived of James Anderson, Strauss and Alastair Cook, for instance, but you get the impression they would have been able to cope better than India have done.

Accepted wisdom says it is bowlers who win you Test matches. In which case, it seems remarkable India reached No 1 in the world on current evidence.

Sans Zaheer, they have had the cutting edge of soggy tissue paper here. While England have been firing shells, India's attack have been lobbing marshmallows.

When their decorated batting line-up then fails to function as well, India look like an ordinary team.

They have not passed 300 in four attempts so far. Playing against the swinging ball in England is seldom an easy task, but the manner of the implosion - particularly in the second innings in Nottingham - hints at more deep-seated problems.

In particular, Yuvraj Singh was totally exposed against the short ball by fine quick bowling from Tim Bresnan at Trent Bridge.

Not for the first time, he looked as though he did not fancy it. It even appeared as though he was thinking of sneaking off when, in the second Test, a bouncer clipped his forearm and was caught at the wicket. He was given not out, but he looked like he needed putting out of his misery.

But this was the most important player in India's World Cup triumph earlier this year. When the one-day internationals roll around, after the conclusion of the four-Test series, and the bowlers have to pitch the ball in his half more often, expect to see him strutting around looking flash again.

It is not without foundation that Yuvraj is regarded as India's Michael Bevan. The former Australian left-hander was a one-day batting great, who could not replicate short-form success at the Test level because of his bouncer blind spot.

England can take India's No 1 ranking by winning at Edgbaston next week. If they do so, it will be a triumph for the world's best bowling attack over a vaunted batting line-up which needs to show some fight.

pradley@thenational.ae


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