Is this India’s best chance to script another historic overseas win in England?
On a bright and sunny weekend here in UK (Must say, was feeling like winter by India standards), I went out for a jog. This kind of weather is usually like a magnet which just pulls you out of your thermal blanket. Near a bus stop, I saw a bloke wearing the England cricket team’s jersey, emblazoned with the name Mike, 10, on the back side, and as cricket is a single family, and as all the cricket fans share an inherent bond, without any hesitation, I went up to him for a chat, “Hey, do you follow cricket”?, I instantly asked, trying to break the ice (“What a foolish question”, I cursed myself, it was self-evident from the jersey).
“Hey, mate, yes, we are avid followers, looking forward to the England-India Series. Are you from India?”, it is a child’s play, isn’t it, to identify a person’s country of origin from the sport they like, more so when it is cricket, “Yes, I think you must have guessed it from the word cricket?”, trying to be slightly humorous. “Ya, I know India is a cricket crazy nation, IPL is a huge tournament in India.”, probably he wanted to test my cricket intellect.
“Not really. Not a huge admirer of franchise based cricket. I am a Test cricket romantic.”, a passionate reply came through from my heart. “That’s commendable. Very few have this thought process. Cricket has been falling prey to the glitz and glamor of this shorter format. It is in dire need of oxygen.”, my smile widened as I had suddenly found someone who shared the same wavelength. “You guys will miss Stokes. Could be the turning point of the series, already”, I tried to expand the conversation, having already grabbed the pulse of his taste.
“I feel for the lad. He has been our super-hero. These covid times have taken a huge toll on these sportsmen. He has been a talisman for us, and has always put the team and his team-mates first. It will be very difficult for England to balance this team.”, he looked at me with a tinge of sadness. I sighed, putting an arm around his shoulder, “It is a body blow for England, he has been your most profitable asset for the last few years, the crown jewel of this Test team. This is India’s best chance since 2007 of winning a series in England.” Mike nodded trying to put his misery behind, “Can’t agree more. England would be a bowler or a batsman light. In addition, Chris Woakes, who has been England’s most successful bowler in UK, will be out of action for the first couple of Tests. That will add to Root’s selection headache.”
“There is a chink in your armour too in that middle order. Your middle order has got only 1 century between them since 2019. Does that suggest something. Your wall Pujara has a middling average of 28 in that phase. What is ailing him”, Mike tried to add a tinge of optimism to his faltering hopes.
“He is just going through a bad phase. He has been a rock at Number 3 for some time now. He had put up a batting master-class in Australia in 2018/19, putting the mighty Australian fast bowlers to sword. He had the same impact in the recent Border-Gavaskar trophy as well, not in terms of runs, but with the time he occupied at the crease, almost running the Australian fast bowlers to ground. He is going to be a vital cog in that wheel. Few can match him for his grit, determination and steel”, I quickly jumped on to Pujara’s defense.
“Coming straight from a Pujara fan.”, Mike gave a wry smile.
“He is one of those breed of traditional cricketers, who are almost on the verge of extinct. Test cricket needs a Pujara, for it to survive.”, The passion was strewn all over my face. “Our top-order is shaky too. Sibley and Burns are not going to harm you guys too much. Crawley is the one I am dearly looking forward to watch. He has got abundance of ability and talent. I am not sure why James Vince and David Malan are not in that squad. Having made an impression in Australia, both of them should have been in the scheme of things”,
Mike’s expression suddenly had a glow normally reserved for precocious talents.
“If the conditions are helpful, both the top-order are going to have a torrid time. I am looking forward to your 39-year old youngster from Lancashire who I must say, shares a cordial relationship with time, because for most athletes, time is their enemy”, I said with an honour of respect in my voice.
“I sometimes run out of adjectives describing this genius. 1000 first-class wickets for a fast bowler is almost equivalent to scaling Mount Everest. Sometimes I wonder if there are many replicas of Anderson, which he keeps plucking out from his cupboard for every series. Is there a way to bottle up his drive and passion in a can?”, Mike’s voice quivering with emotion.
I nodded in unison
“Your bowling is in safe hands but there is a lot of pressure on Root in this series. For England’s sake, with Stokes not around, he will have to raise the bar and assert his authority. For a player of his calibre, an wobbly average of 32 in English conditions doesn’t do justice to his talent. I know with Dukes ball, you are never in as a batsman, but certainly England’s most exalted batsman since Pietersen, can do much better. For the spectacle of this series, I want those majestic cover drives to flow again like a river.”
Mike couldn’t agree more
“Maybe the burden of captaincy is weighing him down. Some thrive on it, some get a bit lost in their shell. He had a fantastic winter in Asia, looked a class apart on some snake pits, but couldn’t carry the form against New Zealand. He is too good a player to stay quiet for long.” A buoyant Mike was full of praise for Root.
As I could see my bus within sight, I quickly looked to conclude the conversation, “What is your prediction for the series.”,
“I think it will be 3-1 to India. I think Kohli would look to make a big statement in this series. Anderson versus Kohli is going to be sumptuous and lip-smacking “, Mike said with a mix of frown and excitement on his face. I nodded in agreement with a radiant smile on as I got on to the bus.