Shots fired ahead of England-India Test series

Last Updated: Thu, Jul 26, 2018 14:49 hrs
virat kohli and james anderson

How do you know that Test cricket still has primacy over white-ball formats? When England and India were engaged in T20Is and ODIs, there was only talk about bragging rights. Everything they did, either side, be it with the bat or ball, be it Joe Root or Kuldeep Yadav, everything pointed towards the Test series. It was all about bragging rights.

A week later, and we are set on the road to the first Test in Birmingham starting August 1. The game – or games, as one should say – have already begun, and not on the field.

"He says it doesn't matter if he gets runs or not? I think he is telling lies there!" exclaimed James Anderson, with a hint of laughter. It was a statement that made headlines.

“Virat will be desperate to score runs for his team, as you would expect from the captain and one of the best players in the world,” he added.

Anderson’s words were in response to what Kohli had said before the tour begun. “I will be happy as long as the team wins, and I am able to contribute to it. I haven’t come here with any personal targets,” when asked about his 2014 tour here in England.

Remember four years ago? When Anderson had the ball moving like it was on a string and arguably the best batsman in the world had no idea how to fend it off. Things have changed since, but that blotch remains on Kohli’s stellar career. In the meantime, Anderson became one of the all-time greats, crossing 500 wickets in his Test career. This is the second episode of their clash, and it already has a tasty setting.

The other setting, of course, is here in Chelmsford where India have cut short their four-day practice game to three. When the Test squad turned up for their first practice session of the tour on Tuesday, they were met with a green top wicket and a rugged outfield. Now, the pitch isn’t really a problem, for we have seen similar ones before. But the outfield is simply, in a word, horrendous.

Heat wave was given as reason to cut short the game, and truth told, this has been an unusually hot English summer. But if a green top can be prepared in parched conditions, why cannot the outfield be kept similarly alive? To think that this is a county ground, nay, the host stadium of the 2017 English first-class champion. While India batted on day one of the tour game – and scored 322/6 – it will be interesting to see if their bowlers and fielders will go full tilt over the next two days. The threat of injury is very real.

At this juncture, it begs a few questions. Pitches with green tops, but truly batsmen friendly in nature, were found at Cardiff, Bristol and Lord’s, with the latter even turning a bit too much. Leeds was another befuddling track – one that didn’t break up enough, even as it wasn’t devoid of grass completely. These tricks put off India very well, so much so that Kuldeep Yadav was dropped inexplicably in Bristol.

“Can Kuldeep bowl without protection of ODI/T20 field placements? I can throw back the same question,” said former captain Alec Stewart, when asked if Yadav had made a deep impact on the English batsmen’s psyche.

It is a keen reasoning, for Yadav did stray at times. At least three of his dismissals in ODIs came off full tosses and short-pitched deliveries. But it is also a U-turn from the heady praise he had garnered so far.

The other question, of course, is about conditions for the practice game. “This Indian team wants to be the best traveling side in world cricket. So you will never hear us complain on this tour. We will play on whatever pitches and conditions are provided to us,” thundered coach Ravi Shastri, in a bid to dispel doubts about any controversy regarding pitch or outfield in the build-up to this practice game.

Interestingly, saying that you ‘don’t want to complain’ is not really equal to saying that you are not ‘unhappy’. In any language, or dictionary, those words have quite a difference in meaning.

Does it imply that the Indian team will happily play on whatever tracks that are laid out? Of course, it is the prerogative for the hosts to decide on match conditions in bilateral cricket.

Does it mean that the Indian team management will forget how their preparations have been truly impeded by a pedestrian outfield in the only practice game before back-to-back five Tests? No, probably not.

Mind games? Yes, indeed.

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