The success of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, the Test match specialists, underlines the importance of rest as against flirting with the perils of playing round the year © Getty Images
The success of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, the Test match specialists, underlines the importance of rest as against flirting with the perils of playing round the year © Getty Images

 

By Madan Mohan

 

During this year’s World Cup, I had written about how England had lost the plot in the one- day game and lacked match-winning players in the limited-overs format. I guess the boot is on the other foot now. India have so far proved not sufficiently Test-ready for such an important series as the ongoing one against England and the results have borne this out comprehensively.

 

I was amused when England’s encounter with Sri Lanka in the World Cup proved painfully reminiscent of the 1996 quarter-final where a Sanath Jayasuriya special whacked them out of the tournament. But I have to say now that, in their favour, they have at least sorted out their priorities. One thing I have gathered from speaking to English cricket fans is they don’t care much for the limited-overs format, for better or worse. They have thus steadfastly stuck to the task of building a strong Test team. And it seems to be paying off.

 

Their batting back-up will be tested if Jonathan Trott is unable to play in the upcoming third Test. But the bench strength of their bowling surely deserves respect. Out went Chris Tremlett and in came Tim Bresnan. And the margin of victory only swelled. And they still have Steve Finn in the wings, if the need arises. On the other hand, the absence of Zaheer Khan as well as first Virender Sehwag and then Gautam Gambhir has severely crippled the Indians.

 

Just how deep England’s Test strength is will be truly tested only when they play in the subcontinent – their Waterloo. But with a squared series in South Africa and the comprehensive Ashes win, they have moved from strength to strength. India have so far taken even more of a pasting than did Australia. I love to align myself against the Poms about as much as anybody else who is, well, not a Pom. But it’s hard to grudge them credit for their meticulous preparation to the end of a lofty goal — to be the champions of Test cricket. I know they were also supposed to have targeted the World Cup, but I think their one- day results generally betray where their priorities lie.

 

India, on the other hand, have ambitiously aimed to be good at everything. There’s nothing wrong with that. West Indies were triumphant in both formats and even fielded the same team. Australia too, barring some one day specialists like Michael Bevan and Ian Harvey, did not have to change their squad too much when hopping from Tests to ODIs.

 

But here is where India perhaps needs a reality check. Are Indians really as physically durable and athletic as the champion Australians of the recent past and the West Indies side under Clive Lloyd? Yes, yes, I know Sachin Tendulkar has represented the country for two decades and over. But let’s not delude ourselves into believing that players like Zaheer or Ishant Sharma are also as durable as the Master. If India keep playing cricket 24×7, 365 days a year, they may never get a fix on their injury woes.

 

If India wants to manage a tight schedule and still come out on top in each format of the game, right now the only way for them to do so would be to have different ODI/T20 and Test squads. In Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Ashish Nehra and Yusuf Pathan, we already have a measure of specialization, but more separation is needed, especially in the bowling line-ups. Players must be told in no uncertain terms that they can’t have their cake and eat it too.

 

Perhaps, if our Test squad hadn’t participated in the IPL right after a long World Cup tournament, they would have been less mentally fatigued, to use Paddy Upton’s words. Small wonder, then, that Dravid and Laxman, the Test specialists, have fared the best of the batting line-up so far, with Dravid in particular stealing a march over the rest.

 

But since we would also not want players seeking Test retirement so that they can play in the IPL, it would be a good idea to enforce this separation only in international fixtures and not the leagues. Since India plays several Test matches in a year now, it would not affect players financially either.

 

At any rate, India needs to get their priorities sorted out and work on well-charted roadmaps towards clear goals. Playing as much as cricket as possible is not sustainable and therefore won’t get them where they want to be at. Take a leaf out of England’s book because planning and execution can overcome many obstacles, including the lack of spectacular talent.

 

(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake.)