Did India get caught up into thinking that it wasn’t eleven players but twenty two yards that would win them the series? Having struggled against bounce and pace, did they allow themselves to believe that turn was all that was needed to return the compliment? Somewhere, did a hurt ego seek comfort in a larger ego? Did India commit the cardinal sin in sport of underestimating the opponent? In life, as in sport, when you belittle the opponent he turns around and bites you. India have done it to others and I greatly fear it was done to them in Mumbai.
There are many qualities that line up in a contest. Skill is the most obvious one, resolve is the stronger one to possess. When conditions are against you, teams can either slip into despair and hopelessness, which is what England have tended to do on the sub-continent, or they can give birth to resolve and England, I suspect, discovered it within themselves. It is a sign of character and the new captain Alastair Cook and the team that played in Mumbai showed a lot of it.
The test match in Mumbai reminded me of two other games in recent years. I was in Perth in 2008 when, after the unsavoury, even unbecoming, drama of the Sydney test a bouncy track was unveiled to the tourists. India were meant to lose in three days, in part to the bounce in part to the disappointment of the result in Sydney. But courage can sometimes sit alongside adversity and India produced one of their finest performances ever to beat Australia at their game. In 82 overs of pace in the first innings, Australia’s feted four pronged attack took 9 for 261. India’s relatively inexperienced bowlers, in the same conditions, bowled 38 overs and took 8 for 165. Irfan Pathan, RP Singh and Ishant Sharma did in Perth what Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann did in Mumbai. It wasn’t skill alone, it was resolve for India were led strong in Australia.
As they were in South Africa in 2010. At Centurion India were bowled out for 136 and on the same surface South Africa amassed 620 for 4. India made 459 batting a second time but though the match was lost by an innings and 25, and familiar talk was heard, India had shown themselves that they could play. And so they competed in the second test at Durban, again a surface that Indians are normally expected to turn their backs from. VVS Laxman ground out 96 but Zaheer Khan stood firm for 27 in a partnership of 70 that was the difference between the two teams. A fighting loss had generated belief and resolve and had overcome a traditional weakness in skill.
Tales of courage
That is what England did in Ahmedabad. Had they folded up in the second innings there, they would have found in the same Wankhede surface unspeakable horrors. They would have been spooked, the series would have been over, the cutting chai in the Irani restaurant might have been sipped on the third evening. But Alastair Cook’s second innings century in Ahmedabad prepared the team for the kind of innings that Kevin Pietersen played in Mumbai. Pietersen’s innings will be talked about for many many years, young men not yet old enough to be fathers will recall it to their grandchildren but Cook produced the resolve that created the conditions for genius to flower.
The teams go to Kolkata level on paper but the demons in the mind that control fortunes have migrated to India. It will test India for in this wonderful see-saw that a longish series allows they now need to be resolute. But it will test England as much for winning can deceive too. Will England be lulled into thinking that the peak has been conquered? If they do, resolve will be vanquished by complacence, guts by smugness. If however they can keep victory at arm’s length, as they did defeat in Ahmedabad, they could give themselves a shot at history.
And to think that if we had those maddening 2 test series the untold joys that I hope lie before us would have been banished. I like the spontaneity and exuberance of T20 but this vast canvas of strengths and frailties, this exhibition of character has me hooked.
I look forward to seeing the great skills these teams possess in Kolkata and Nagpur but even more, I look forward to seeing how they approach the many different situations that test cricket thrusts them into. And I will hope to be reassured that it is 11 men that produce results not 22 yards of turf.