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World Test Championship Final: A Collapse That Was Pre-ordered

By: Sanjay Suri

Last Updated: June 24, 2021, 15:45 IST

London

Team India after the loss at the Rose Bowl in Southampton, England, Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Ian Walton)

Team India after the loss at the Rose Bowl in Southampton, England, Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Ian Walton)

The language of likely defeat for India was written over Southampton before a ball could be bowled.

A casual follower of cricket remarked at a group meeting that there are as many experts on cricket in India as there are Indians above age ten. He was quickly, and rightly, corrected. That should have been all Indians above the age of five.

Accepting that, as one more or less might, it should add up to a number not terribly below a billion cricket experts in India. It is just as likely that most of these experts had seen what was coming at Southampton. They are the ‘ordinary’ experts, but seeing how often the professional experts, the paid pundits, get it wrong, they have hardly any reason to speak with less authority.

This time they had reason to speak with more. They could see clearly, who couldn’t really, that past the first hour of riding through somehow, India were groping along somehow.

They saw it perhaps better than the more formal little band of experts offering their punditry on this show and that, a platform here, a platform there. This is the small band of experts that hangs around the team, that hangs around the BCCI – the Board of Control for Cricket in India. They watch the players in adulation, their job is to build them to be heroes larger than life. And their job is to speak uncritically, and usually visibly deferentially, to the BCCI and about the BCCI. There’s always something in it for them.

A gung-ho language built up for Team India passes as the language of loyalty. The voice of exception to automatic adulation becomes the voice of disloyalty, almost traitorous. The language of likely defeat was written over Southampton before a ball could be bowled, and the ‘traitors’ read that right. That the traitors proved right, as they often do, makes them no less traitorous in the eyes of the gung-ho gang.

Hotel

The BCCI in fact set up the defeat in which the Indian team, led by its captain, joined willingly, almost eagerly. While New Zealand were sharpening their skills and building up rapid experience of playing conditions through the course of two Test matches with England, the Indian team were in their hotel. With their families, one must add.

Over the course of two weeks at the Hilton by the Rose Bowl in Southampton, the Indian players put in some net practice no doubt. But no one was in doubt, certainly, the band of billion experts was likely not, that net practice is no substitute for match practice. What every kid could see, the BCCI could not. The BCCI had in fact set up the arrangement to the disadvantage of the Indian team.

Not only did the BCCI do so, but it also declared that the Indian team was on arrival in “perfect playing conditions”. Those were in fact perfect resting positions between net practice. The band of pundits backed up that view with hyperbolic CVs of this player and that.

The Indian captain who might have been the first to have spoken against such an obviously disadvantageous start sounded delighted with the schedule. On the first washed-out day of the Test, Kohli declared India would be at an advantage because Indian fans would be there despite the rain. The dedication of a band that became more miserable every passing minute and with just about every passing bowl through the match was admirable no doubt, but it was never going to be match-winning.

More hotel

And more of the same awaits India, more of the same has been set up by the BCCI. Forty-one more days of hotel for the Indian team, with their families now, right until August 4 when the first Test with England begins. And with no match to play through those 41 days.

England meanwhile stay on their toes, and match-fight ready through one-day and T20 series against both Sri Lanka and Pakistan. That is straight after their two Tests against New Zealand.

And the Indian skipper welcomes this long rest period now. “I feel like when you are done with the World Test Championship, I think it is a great opportunity to refresh, restructure,” he told the media before heading to England with the team on June 3. “It will give us time to regroup and refresh as a side and prepare again for a long series and that kind of a set-up is very important before you go into a lengthy series.”

The Indian team, he seemed convinced, does its best by doing nothing. “We know that playing five Tests in England can be very challenging and daunting so we want to have the most amount of time before that series to set for those five games and be in that zone from there on.”

Kohli was honest about what players can do in the meanwhile. He said the gap would give “a little bit of freedom to go out and access the kind of things the locals had.”

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first published:June 24, 2021, 15:45 IST
last updated:June 24, 2021, 15:45 IST