Missing out…..Indian players (from left to right) Ishant Sharma, MS Dhoni, Praveen Kumar, Harbhajan Singh and VVS Laxman warm the bench instead of warming up in the middle. At least four of these five players will go into the first Test against England at Lord’s without having the benefit of playing the warm-up game against Somerset © Getty Images

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

The attitude of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in not scheduling adequate warm-up matches before the start of overseas series is quite senseless. Take, for example, India’s last two tours – to South Africa in 2010 and the West Indies in June 2011. On both tours, the team was deprived of acclimatization and pre-series match practice. This probably explains India consistently losing the opening game of the series. The Indian team now touring England is relatively better-off, having played one game – against Somerset – before the Test series gets under way on Thursday.

 

It is a known fact that the tours to South Africa, Australia and England are one of the toughest assignments for the Indian players. The adjustments that they have to make on these tours are far more than they may have to make when they travel to countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and now West Indies – partly because pitches in the Caribbean have become lower and slower and partly because the West Indies team isn’t the force they were. In South Africa and Australia the tracks are fast and bouncy and in England the ball swings a lot more than it does elsewhere.

 

Having just one warm-up game in the tour program isn’t enough. A tour itinerary must contain at least two warm-up games before the commencement of the Test series. Tour games aren’t just about acclimatization but also about finding the right combination of players. Two warm-up games should be the bare minimum as it would give the team management an opportunity to field each member of the squad for at least a game before they face the home team in the Test matches. VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni and Ishant Sharma will feature in the first Test at Lord’s a few days from now without any match practice under English conditions. Had there been two warm-up games, the trio would have featured in at least one of them. The last time India toured England, they played two warm-up games. In the lead up to the series it served well as most of the squad members got exposure to English conditions.

 

The mind goes back to India’s tour to Australia 2007-08. Prior to the start of the Test series the Indians played just one warm-up game. That game was severely affected by rain and the Indians didn’t get enough exposure to the Australian conditions before the Boxing Day Test match. The Indian team were then in a selection dilemma as Yuvraj Singh was coming off a hundred against Pakistan at Bangalore. He played that game as a replacement for Sachin Tendulkar and staked his claim for a berth in the middle-order with a fantastic knock. Thus, the team management was tempted to fit him into the scheme of things. As a result Rahul Dravid was asked to open the batting. The rain affected warm-up meant that the new plans weren’t tested properly. What happened later was that Dravid wasn’t able to deliver his best as an opener and Yuvraj Singh struggled in the two games he got.

 

India’s tour to South Africa 2010-11 is another example. India didn’t have any warm-up games before the Test matches and really struggled to come to terms with the conditions in the first Test. Had there been a warm-up game or two, the result of the first Test may have been different.

 

The tours of England, South Africa and Australia need at least two warm-up games before the start of the Test series. This is of utmost importance if the Test series precedes the limited-overs leg. If the Tests are after the limited-overs matches then having just one warm-up game is fine as the Test specialists can play those matches. Some of the players who have played in the one-day games may take rest in such situations.

 

When India toured New Zealand in 2008-09, six Indian players who weren’t a part of the one-day squad played for New Zealand’s domestic sides before the Test series. These players played in the domestic competition as their limited-overs counterparts were involved in a one-day series.

 

Having adequate warm-up matches will certainly help India get rid of the tag of “poor starters” as the players would have got used to the climate and wickets before the start of the series.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)