First, the good part: It is proving to be the source of much entertainment for spectators, some of who can be heard chanting “Will he, won't he” when an Indian fielder attempts to take a catch.
Two, it is probably spawning a huge betting industry. As most of the English seem to place bets on anything that moves, it is inconceivable to imagine that someone will not be placing a wager on how many fielding lapses (catches/stumpings/misfields) will occur when India's XI men are manning the ground. And finally, it's probably a great PR act, for a foreign team to be that gracious. And now, the bad part: Unless there's a dramatic turnaround, their fielding, or, lack of it, is going to cost India the series.
On Monday, after his team had another bad day in the field, which contributed in no little measure to England going 2-1 up in the series, Indian skipper Rahul Dravid helpfully came up with a word to summarise the difference between the two teams. “Outfielding”.
“We have to play better cricket,” said Dravid with insight, adding, “And they are outfielding us really… Batting, we are getting some good knocks, some of our bowlers are bowling well, but they are outfielding us. That is something we have to correct.”
Dravid, as usual, was somewhat understated but at least India are making progress, they are at least acknowledging the seriousness of the problem. It would help if they tackle it as seriously.
In the first three ODIs, they have missed half a dozen chances in the field, including a stumping opportunity, which has cost them dearly.
On the other hand, England, traditionally a weak one-day outfit, have looked rejuvenated under the leadership of Paul Collingwood. They had two blows before the toss on Friday. First, Andrew Flintoff's unavailability due to his stiffness in his right knee was confirmed and then, the other all-rounder in the XI, Dimitri Mascarenhas, received a blow on his right thumb during the team's warm-up which forced him on to the bench as well.
However, though Collingwood said, “we always miss Freddie”, England barely seemed to miss either Flintoff, or Mascarenhas, who did so well with the ball at The Rose Bowl (10-1-28-1) and the willow in Bristol (52 off 36).
“After you take over the captaincy, you introduce new tactics… I have already said that,” Collingwood said. “To play good cricket you need to set a pattern and it's early days yet, but we are trying to bring in fearlessness and streamline one-day cricket into our blood. It's good that we are improving but there is a long way to go.”
Summarising the game as an “excellent team performance”, Collingwood added: “I think there were a helluva lot of positives to be taken from this game.”
Well, England have been steadily adding to the list of positives from the first game in Southampton last Tuesday, and India have been as steadily inconsistent. They made it to Manchester on Monday night and would probably do well to plan in right earnest. If they don't get their act together at Old Trafford on Thursday, the series will be as good as over.