Monday, July 18, 2011

England!!!

The much talked about series kick starts this week. India, the number one ranked and world champions, take on England, the self proclaimed world champions but only in their own backyard. This series is given the status of THE SERIES to be followed. Well, it has to be because 2 of the best 3 teams will be competing in this series. Last time 2 of the best 3 teams competed just before the world cup in South Africa, it was THE SERIES to be followed. I know my generation will have an ear to ear smile as soon as it realizes that the common connect between these two series is India.

For me, England has always been a place where sun is always hidden behind the clouds. Wonder how they came up with the phrase of “Sun never sets in British empire” because it is hardly seen in their own country. The grounds are lush green. The ball always swings, so much so that even a Mark Ealham or a Ronnie Irani is qualified to play as a medium pacer. People, clad in business suits and hats come to watch cricket. They do not even shout on the events we Indians go mad – a wicket or a six, they just clap thrice. It is a place where it’s so easy for viewers to run to the ground that players often run for their lives as soon as the match is over.

It goes without saying that with a virgin passport, all the above-mentioned images were built in my ageing mind with the help of hours of television viewing.

England is also a place where we always lose the first test, put up some fight in the second and perform better than the home team in the final test. Later, the reason given for this gradual improvement after a steep fall is slow acclimatization in English conditions. 2007 was definitely an exception.

I remember that 1990 series started for me with a huge disappointment. DD refused to telecast the series citing financial reasons. It didn’t even show the highlights. Yes, our generation has seen such days.

The series started with Azhar winning the toss and putting England into bat, England losing 1 or 2 wickets quickly, Kiran More dropping Gooch on 36 and making amends soon –  by then Gooch had added only 297 more runs to his score. Chasing 653, India needed 454 to avoid follow-on. I came rushing back from school hoping India would have avoided the follow-on. I remember commentators were talking about some strange event where all they were shouting was “It’s a Six.” Only after few minutes I understood what had happened. India needed 24 to avoid follow on with Kapi and last man Hirwani at the crease. Kapil gave no respect to Hirwani’s batting skills. He scored the remaining of 24 runs to save the follow - by hitting 4 consecutive sixes. Hirwani respected Kapils’s disrespect in his batting and got out next ball. India lost the test. Scoring rate in the test was well over 3 – it’s like scoring 200 in a T20 these days. Several reasons were pointed out for this loss – poor bowling, Azhar’s 87 ball 100, bad fielding, dropped catches, and the biggest one – putting England in after winning the toss.

Azhar said in his defense, “We did get a few wickets cheaply, didn’t we?”

I heard "I am batting well in the nets"
Second test was known for India’s escape from Alcatraz. India saved the test at Old Trafford from a position of no hope. Sachin scored his much awaited first test hundred. I remember, after the lord’s test, reading an article in Cricket Samrat which said that Sachin was still in this side because of backing of a very strong Mumbai lobby – Sunil Gavaskar was quoted saying “He sounds like Garry Sobers. See, even his voice resembles a great cricketer.” The article was titled “Tarah tarah ka jaadu” (magic of different kinds). As the years passed by, Sachin did turn out to be a magician.

India made England follow-on in the second test but it was a draw and we lost 1-0. When I asked my dad “We made them follow-on but they couldn’t. We did better than them, isn’t it?” he responded with a smile “It’s the score line of 1-0 that counts son, nothing else.”

Only saving grace was that we won the ODI series quite comprehensively. But the image of the series will always be Kapil’s 4 sixes.

We toured England again in 1996. This time we heard of a new channel – ESPN. Cable operators refused to pay extra to ESPN. We were devoid of seeing this series too. Anyhow, the story of the series wasn’t very different. We lost the first test and drew the rest two. But real story was away from the cricket ground.

Chetan Sharma, India’s only bearded cricketer till then was main reason for India’s success in England in 1986. In 1990, none of the players had beard and India lost. Hence we all were hoping Sidhu’s beard to repeat the magic of 1986. But Sidhu had a fight with Azhar and he came back without even playing. We had a backup in Vikram Rathod's beard. But he preferred to follow the law of averages – for Chetan Sharma’s heroics in 1986, Rathod opted for mediocrity. Well, it all evens out in long term doesn’t it?

But India got two new heroes in Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. India’s pace attack also gave us hope for future.

1996 was worse than 1990. We couldn’t even win the ODI series. Being a forgetteble series, I cannot recall any image from this series.

Come 2002 and things were entirely different. Under Ganguly, the team was looking different – more confident and for the first time, with a “We haven’t lost it till we have actually lost it” attitude.

But it all started on a familiar note. In spite of an awe inspiring, unbelievable, jaw dropping century from Ajit Agarkar in second innings, we lost the first test. We somehow managed to draw the second test thanks to a very defiant batting display from Indian middle order.

When Sourav Ganguly opted to bat on greenish track at Headingley, that too under overcast conditions, almost everyone said that he was doing a mirror image of what Azhar did in 1990 at Lords. As it turned out, not for the first time, Ganguly proved his critics wrong. It wasn’t the last time either. Coming from a state which had been ruled by the left wing for ages, Ganguly had a habit of proving his critics wrong no matter how right they were. Not often you see a batting side refusing to take the “bad light “even though the batsmen were facing fast bowlers. Light didn’t matter to Sachin and Ganguly on that evening. If someone needed bad light as an excuse to run out of the ground, it was England. We won the test and went into the final test with score line tied at 1-1.

Score line remained at 1-1 but we won the ODI trophy in a trendsetting style. But image of the series remains to ba THAT evening when they refuse to take the "bad-light".

Tour of 2007 was considered to be the last one for almost all the Indian biggies – Sachin, Dravid, Kumble, Laxman and Ganguly. If England would have loved to see the back of one player most desperately, I am sure it was Ganguly. Replace Enlgand with any other team in this sentence and I guess it will still be true.

Thanks to rain, Dhoni’s most ugly but extremely effective innings and a bad umpiring decision in the penultimate over of the match, India managed to save the first test. It was such a strange feeling. Second test had started and we were not playing the catch up game – it was still 0-0. Zaheer Khan bowled extremely well. So did Kumble and the rest. England was out cheaply in the first innings. India batted superbly – not a single batsman scored a century yet we managed a huge lead. In England’s second innings, when Vaughn was threatening to take England to a position of safety, Zaheer Khan somehow managed to hit the stumps. England collapsed. We won.

I don’t know after how many years; they went into the decider with a lead of 1-0. India scored real big in first innings but the only century, only century from an Indian batsman in the entire series, came from Anil Kumble. India was in a winning position but as Mr. Tracer Bullet would say “Did not put its foot on the accelerator.” Captain Rahul Dravid was blamed for defensive captaincy. Well that’s what the captains are there for – taking blames. India won the series 1-0.

Just after the final test, Sachin was asked if this was his last tour to England. Drenched in champagne, he looked so embarrassed as if he was caught nose-digging on camera. He just smiled, giggled, shrugged his shoulders, and said politely “I don’t know what to say.”

Just hope nobody asks him that question this time. You do not ask “When will you die.” God asks you, “When shall I come and pick you up”

We lost the ODI series. Nasser Hussain said on air during the ODI series “Even if India manages to win, this team looks totally hopeless. I see England’s future far better than this India.”

Well, one cannot blame Nasser. Batting was Nasser’s strength, not predicting future.

3 of India’s big 5 are still as good as they were 4 years back. Sachin, Laxman and Dravid will be England’s biggest worry. India may miss Sehwag but in Abhinav Mukund, England will surely not miss Sadagopan Ramesh. India’s weakest in the middle order, Suresh Raina, has just put up the strongest performance in the only tour match before the first test.

Zaheer Khan has become more prudent as a bowler, Sreesanth still doesn’t believe in prudence and Harbhajan is fighting to make it large. Thankfully Ishant is back, Munaf is still Munaf and PK will be giving selection headache to the team management.

Lords may result in a draw if the forecast is to be believed. If we somehow manage to avoid losing in the first test, England may well have to console themselves with the fact that they have won 3 out of last four Ashes’.

Let the show begin.

3 comments:

talk2somani said...

very well written :)

Sachin Gulhane said...

Will dressing room in Lords have new name this time ?

Spiff said...

i predict England getting off to a good start