It's all about home truths
It's the fourth one-dayer at Lord's in mid-September; Wasim Akram is sipping tea and discussing cricket with a couple of Indian journos. Sanjjeev Karan Samyal reports.cricket Updated: Nov 01, 2011 00:22 IST
It's the fourth one-dayer at Lord's in mid-September; Wasim Akram is sipping tea and discussing cricket with a couple of Indian journos.
As everyone is raving about England's new-found strength, Akram is asked: 'Does the future belong to England?' The obvious benchmark is Steve Waugh's 'Invincibles'.
The Pakistan legend can provide a good idea because he played against Waugh's warriors at their peak. Australia's 16-Test record winning streak had started with a 3-0 whitewash of Pakistan in 1999.
"No way, that Australia team was something else. There is no comparison. Just wait when the one-day series begins and England play on the spin-friendly wickets," the former left-arm pacer had said.
It was hard to believe because of what was happening down at the ground, with England denying India a single victory on the nearly 70-day tour. The results showed England had the credentials to be the 'Invincibles of 2000'.
Flatter to deceive
To play away from home is a challenge for every team but the top ones still go out there and prove themselves. For the first time, England entered a one-day contest in India as favourites when they landed in Hyderabad. But what followed has been as stunning as India's capitulation in England.
They have been walloped 5-0, the only consolation being the win in the one-off Twenty20 game at Eden Gardens. For both India and England, it has become a case of 'Lions at home and lambs away'.
The naked truth is cricket is in a mediocre age where none of the teams can claim greatness. Despite the ODI series whitewash, India do not have the depth and quality of the Australian team of 2000, neither do England.
The two teams just don't have the power to dominate in all conditions. England made India look woeful at home, not because they were vastly superior but by exploiting every inch of the home advantage they could get. All the playing surfaces were tailor-made to suit Andrew Strauss' and Alastair Cook's men.
Indian batsmen were not exactly in poor form but were up against massive odds.
Against bowlers adept at swing, batting in overcast and windy conditions on a green track, you have to be lucky to play and miss many times to survive.
Even at venues known to be good for batting, the nature of tracks remained green and proved a haven for bowlers. India were expected to put up a better show at Edgbaston and The Oval. The conditions had always suited them over there but what they encountered was another Trent Bridge.
Coach Duncan Fletcher's veiled statement in the middle of the Edgbaston game said it all. "I have never seen the ball swing so much and for all the days of a series as it has in this series." The former England coach would have known that in his eight years there.
The England batsmen thrived not because they were a class above their Indian counterparts but they were up against a mentally weak Indian pace attack that simply didn't have the discipline to exploit the conditions. Ishant Sharma and S Sreesanth were below-Test class in the way they bowled boundary balls every over, something not acceptable even in Grade cricket. It released the pressure on England batsmen and put it back on the Indians.
It continued in the ODI series as well as the third game was played on a seaming Oval track with commentators Michael Holding and David Gower declaring it was not a one-day wicket, which ideally should favour the batsmen.
One could see where it was coming from. When they had given good batting surfaces at Chester-le-Street and Southampton, the Indian batsmen had suddenly come into their own. The England board clearly didn't want an even playing field. Does sporting track mean just pace and bounce? It should give the opposition an equal chance, without the original nature of the track being doctored.
England coach Andy Flower can express similar sentiments at the end of the series in India. The wickets, except in Mohali, have all been prepared to cater to the home team -- bare, brown tracks with little bounce and little late lateral movement. England had no chance even against 2nd string Indian team.
It only proves that while both the teams may be better than the rest the general standard of cricket is poorest compared to the last three-four decades. Despite their No 1 ranking for 19 months, no one will take India's claims seriously as a top team.
England, who have the No 1 tag now, are headed in the same direction. The pace attack, which looks so menacing in home conditions, is easy meat on bald pitches where the skill lies in cutting the ball.
An example of what former greats think of current standards was witnessed during the Lord's Test this summer. Desmond Haynes was holding court after the third day's play, the battle having been kicked off between the top two ranked sides in the world. A group of eager fans asked him to compare the action on hand with the all-conquering West Indies team in which he played. "The wicketkeeper is collecting the ball below his waist. Even in the final session of the day, our 'keeper would be collecting balls consistently at shoulder height," the former opener summarised, disappointment writ large on his face. In India, Ravi Shastri said if it was a Test series, England would have lost that too. It is difficult to imagine that Shastri would have been proved wrong.
It's a case of one-eyed king in the land of blind. Otherwise, how much can change in a month?