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Sport  


 

Is India’s cricket debacle the worst ever?

By Soutik Biswas
Cricket is a great leveller. For the past 21 months India had been the top Test team in the world. In April they became the world champions, lifting the World Cup after nearly three decades.
Nothing could seemingly go wrong with this indisputably talented team with the best batting line-up in the world. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the captain with the Midas touch, leading India to dominate the world of cricket in all formats of the game, including the fickle Twenty20.
Staying on top was never going to be easy but Indian fans are shocked by the way India has capitulated to England during this dismal summer.

After their defeats at Lord’s and Nottingham, India had actually scored 10 runs less than Bangladesh managed in their two Tests in England last year!
And after the mauling at Edgbaston, India - say most fans - has no face to show. “The margins of defeat are getting bigger and bigger,” said an evidently exasperated Dhoni to a TV channel after the defeat.
The unforgiving Indian media is pulling no punches after the defeat. The headlines came blunt and quick on the news channels; moments after Bresnan picked up Sreesanth and put an end to India’s agony.
“India Dethroned” appeared to be the most popular headline, followed by screechy ones like “End of Dhoni’s Midas touch” and “Dhoni’s boys decimated”. On one channel I watched an anchor running out of words as he breathlessly screamed: “India has been outplayed, outsmarted, erm, hmm...”
The inquisition of the world’s most high-profile, richest cricketers had begun in right earnest with one channel unsparingly highlighting the “villains” of the team.
History is stacked against India in England. India has now only won three of the 16 Test series in England. They did not win a single Test during the first six series and won a Test and a series for the first time only in 1971.
India again won in 1986 and 2007, the second time by a slim 1-0 margin. With overcast, cloudy and cold weather helping ample seam and swing bowling on relatively green tops, England has never been India’s favourite playing field.

But expectations were high from this Indian team, which many believed was the strongest ever to tour England.
No-one believed India wouldn’t be able to score 300 runs even once in the six innings it has played so far. No one expected India would lose by more than 750 runs in the first three Tests. “This is possibly the worst series we have played in decades,” cricket fan and writer Mukul Kesavan said.
Possibly worse than the sepulchral summer of 1974 when England walloped a weak Indian team 3-0 - twice by an innings - and India were skittled out for 42 - their lowest score ever - at Lord’s. Is this the worst ever?
It is clear that a combination of injuries to star players, lack of adequate preparation, absence of a wider pool of Test players and too much cricket thanks to a thoughtlessly crowded cricket calendar rendered India hors de combat.
Former Indian opener Aakash Chopra believes India “lacked a roadmap” for this marquee series, simply not preparing well enough. He is right.
India possibly didn’t realise they were up against a team whose batsmen were in peak and insatiable form - England batsmen had scored, for example, six double centuries in the past 14 months alone, compared to eight in the previous 21 years.
Also, hunting in a pack, England’s pace attack had been looking menacingly like the best one in the world for months. Over the past 18 months it had averaged 26.55 runs per wicket and struck every 52 deliveries, the best among all teams.

Of the eight top pace bowlers in the world since January 2010, four were English - Tim Bresnan, James Anderson, Chris Tremlett and Steven Finn - with more than 200 wickets between themselves during this period. This was not a team to be taken lightly.
So is the debacle in England the beginning of the end of India’s domination as the top Test playing nation? Will India slide further down the ladder or is this a one-off setback and India will rebound soon?
It is difficult to say. The stellar batting superstars and best pace bowler are ageing, the best spinner has lost his sting, and the pace attack lacks a genuine tearaway strike bowler who can run through the top order.

There are no stand-out all-rounders and where have the fabled spinners gone - bowlers, as The Daily Telegraph wrote, “with rubbery wrists and flexible fingers who will beguile batsmen”?
Most worryingly, there are few automatic replacements in sight. Even if India manages to rebound now it is not looking very bright ahead. And the men who run Indian cricket, addled on the riches of the lucrative Indian Premier League, don’t appear to be too bothered. -(BBC)

 

England’s unsung heroes

By Sam Sheringham
The rags to riches story of England’s rise from the bottom to the top of the world rankings features plenty of big-name stars but the roles of several supporting actors should not be overlooked.
Captain Andrew Strauss, his team-mates and coach Andy Flower have received most of the plaudits, while many have noted the importance of former coach Duncan Fletcher and ex-skipper Michael Vaughan in steering England towards the summit.
But over the past decade or so, several other figures have played fundamental roles in helping transform England into an ultra-professional winning machine.
Here are five of English cricket’s many unsung heroes.

TROY COOLEY, ENGLAND BOWLING COACH 2003-2006

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, England had plenty of talented bowlers, but rarely did they boast a true attack, a collection of talents each offering different but complimentary skills.

Cooley, a Tasmanian who never played international cricket, was lured to England by his compatriot Rod Marsh and, after initially working with the ECB Academy; he soon became involved with the senior bowlers.

In 2005, he helped mould Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones into a formidable unit, using a blend of raw pace, seam movement and reverse swing to repeatedly dismantle Australia’s much-vaunted batting line-up.
So fundamental was his role in helping England win the Ashes back that Australia promptly snatched him back the following year.
“Troy Cooley was a tremendous bowling coach who helped fine-tune the actions of Harmison, Flintoff and Jones,” says Stewart. “They already had the talent but he provided that extra pair of eyes off the field and just kept pointing them in the right direction.”

LORD MACLAURIN, ECB CHAIRMAN 1997-2002

A former chairman of Vodafone and Tesco, MacLaurin set about turning English cricket into a successful business on and off the pitch. He introduced central contracts to give the England management more control over the country’s finest players, and set up a National Academy, which was based in Adelaide in 2001 and 2002 before moving to its current home at Loughborough University.

He invested heavily in grassroots cricket and formulated a National Strategy for Cricket, with the stated aim of seeing England ranked number one in the world by 2007. We’ll forgive him the four-year wait.
“When I was captain and David Lloyd was coach, we talked about wanting central contracts but Ian MacLaurin was a very successful business man who came in and made that happen,” says former skipper Alec Stewart.
“Now the coach has total control over the England team. He can pull them out of county games or send them back in to regain form. You can have training camps, fitness camps, and it is no coincidence that since central contracts came in England has made massive progress.

GRAHAM GOOCH, ENGLAND BATTING COACH NOV 2009-PRESENT

When Ishant Sharma was blowing a hole in the England batting order on the fourth day at Lord’s, one man on the home balcony looked particularly distressed.
It was Graham Gooch, whose sterling work has helped ensure that such middle-order collapses are largely a thing of the past.
Gooch is a father figure to many of the England batsmen, who look to meet his demand for the “daddy” hundreds that really alter the course of matches.

Anyone doubting Gooch’s influence should contemplate the following statistic. In the past 15 months, England’s batsmen have scored six double-centuries in Test cricket, the same number they managed in the previous 15 years.
“Even when I played under his captaincy he always used to say you never had enough runs,” says Stewart. “If you got to 100, go and get 150. When he got to 300, that wasn’t enough so he went and got 333. They are the standards you have to set if you want to be the best team in the world.”

NASSER HUSSAIN, ENGLAND CAPTAIN 1999-2003

Alongside Fletcher, Hussain oversaw a sea change in the mentality of the England cricket team. A fierce competitor, he demanded that his players gave everything on the field and made the side much tougher to beat.
Often hamstrung by limited bowling resources, he was always on his toes, sometimes making as many as four field changes in a single over in an effort to break a partnership.

After an inauspicious start - he was famously booed on the balcony at The Oval after a home defeat by New Zealand - Hussain led England to series victories in Pakistan and Sri Lanka as he became the first captain since Mike Brearley to win four Test series in a row.
Aided by central contracts and Fletcher’s no-nonsense approach, he ensured Michael Vaughan’s inheritance was a team in the truest sense of the word.
But one frontier remained to be crossed: regaining the Ashes.

HUW BEVAN, ENGLAND FITNESS COACH 2009-PRESENT

Even to the untrained eye, the difference in the fitness levels and athleticism between the England team and their Indian counterparts is striking.
Fielding coach Richard Halsall takes much of the credit for their agility and skill, but the role of Huw Bevan in turning them into true athletes should not be overlooked.
A former rugby union hooker, Bevan was a conditioning coach at Ospreys before joining the England cricket set-up via Glamorgan.

He structures the indoor and outdoor fitness sessions that are such a big part of a modern sportsman’s training, and also oversaw Stuart Broad and Steven Finn when they took time out of the game for “strength and conditioning” training.
Many an eye-brow was raised at the decision among the ex-cricketer fraternity but few were complaining when both bowlers emerged leaner, stronger and with deliveries regularly touching the 90mph mark.
“You only have to stand alongside one of the England players to see that they are athletes not cricketers now,” said BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew.
“They are incredibly fit and lean human beings and they work astonishingly hard.” – [BBC]

 

We want England to become the Manchester United of cricket

By Stuart Broad
After not doing so well against Sri Lanka, I had to work out what type of bowler I wanted to be and what was the best way to take wickets and help the side. I still say the wickets we played on against Sri Lanka encouraged the use of the short ball but I had to re-evaluate where I was at before facing India.
Going back to Notts the week before the first Test and taking five wickets pitching the ball up showed me the way I had to go and that gave me the confidence for what has followed.
My bouncer is an effective weapon, and always will be for me, but to use that ball once as a surprise every over makes the fuller ball more dangerous. It is the fuller delivery that has worked for me on the wickets we have played on in this series and I think we can call Tim Bresnan our enforcer now!
The Oval was a special place to be on Monday after we had won, receiving that mace trophy and doing a lap of the ground.

Not to mention the sight of Graeme Swann doing an impression of Freddie Flintoff after taking his fifth wicket. I wasn’t sure what on earth he was doing at first but I gather that’s what it was supposed to be!
A lot of hard work has gone into this series and that was what we reflected on when we sat on the outfield after everybody had gone.
The players thanked the management, Andy Flower rounded things up and we were told to enjoy the moment before coming back strong in a few days for the one-day matches.
Celebrating as a team, after a big series win, is one of the most special experiences. We had a few beers in the changing room while watching Man United against Spurs on TV and then went into London for a few more. It’s not where you go, it’s the company you keep and we have a very close-knit group.
Then, when I opened my hotel room door on Tuesday morning, the first thing I saw in a paper was my best mate Matt Prior drinking a bottle of champagne.

It was nice to see so much of us in those papers and I think the public have enjoyed what we have done this summer. The support in this series has been amazing.
We spent a lot of time in the field at The Oval after making India follow on. I must admit at lunch I did wonder if we were going to win that final Test and we missed a few chances to get Sachin Tendulkar out.
You could sense the crowd were waiting for his hundred and were getting a bit nervous for him but it was our job to make sure it didn’t happen. Eventually we got our man and that was the big moment.
We kept telling each other that once we got one wicket others would follow because it wasn’t an easy pitch to come in on, and then we did what we have become good at over the last couple of years — bursting through the opposition once we have an opening.

We sat down at Lord’s as a bowling unit ahead of the series to talk about the best plans of attack for each of the India batsmen and those plans have been executed perfectly. Only Rahul Dravid has got on top of us.
Those ideas are not rocket science — going for the top of off stump is still the best plan for most occasions — but we had variations for each player and worked as a team. From my point of view, I have never bowled more consistently over a sustained period.
We want this to be the start of the legacy we aim to create. We want to be successful for a long time, like Man United has been, for one example.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if, in 20 years, people talked about us and looked back fondly on what we had achieved? It’s the target for us all.
-[Daily Mail]